Wednesday, February 25, 2009

From My Mind to Your Imagination: Bobby’s Trace and Mystery Writing

I must say, I have fun when I write a mystery, whether it’s a whodunit like Turning Idolater or a horror-ghost story like Bobby’s Trace. Authors have an obligation to their readers — to provide them with compelling material presented through well conceived, living characters who are wrapped in vivid and engaging language. However, when dealing out mystery, logic is a crucial element. Unlike a slice of life work, a mystery promises the reader surprises and clues, not that non-mysteries exclude surprise. However, logic can fly the coop in a mystery, leaving the reader scratching their heads wondering where the work fell off the cliff . . . or did they? I have more fun authoring mysteries because I get to meet logic’s challenge and stretch it to the fullest taffy pull. I succeed only when the reader trips over the ending, hits themselves in the head and wonders why they couldn’t unwrap the enigma. Hiding clues in the reader’s path and knowing that they won’t see them is highly rewarding to me — I’m that tricky.

In Bobby’s Trace, a passionate haunting that blends gay themes, religion, Gilbert & Sullivan and computer programming into an unlikely frolic through the ghost world, I attempt to delight the reader to the extreme. The action belays the clues, which are processed, but dismissed as common elements — much like sleight of hand employed in a magician’s act. This misdirection can be attributed to Bobby’s Trace’s origins. It began life as a one-act farce in three scenes. It had nothing ghostly about it except the tenuous hold of the protagonist’s dead lover. In fact, the play had the unlikely title An Outing in the Wilderness, the main action laid across the humorous conflict of the programmer and the priest (not unlike the Princess and the Pea). I found the premise, amusing as a play, not as humorous in prose. Enter (stage right) Bobby — first as a mild Blithe Spirit presence, and then as a fully developed ghost stuck between the worlds. Then as I developed Bobby’s character, the work changed. The pathos of poor Bobby and his magnetic eyes — the beauty of his youth and the tragedy of his early death was impetus to something far greater than the romp between programmer and priest. The illogic of a fantasy world — a spirit universe married by the very act of mourning — so powerful that both the mourned and the mournful could dwell in it to the point where it becomes unclear whether the living mourn the dead or the dead mourn life, emerged. Now this were a-boilin’, transforming a light gay coming-out comedy into a griping, terrifying ghost mystery complete with a signature gut-wrenching ending.

Creating a satisfying mystery — one that delivers on its promise, is to enter a partnership with the reader — to help the reader search for the clues, and then, push them off in another direction. Agatha Christie loved to employ these red herrings in her books. The trick is to not let the fish smell too much like fish. Many readers of Bobby’s Trace have told me that they loved re-reading it just to find out where they went wrong — sort of sniffing for the fish in the corners. When I hear that, my day is always made, because it means that I have fulfilled my author’s motto — From my mind to your imagination . . . (Paperback) (Kindle)

Edward C. Patterson

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Advent of Simone DeFleurry

The Advent of Simone DeFleurry in The Jade Owl
by Edward C. Patterson

One might think that to pop in a compelling character like Simone DeFleurry — a drag queen, into a fantasy adventure like The Jade Owl is a simple matter of adding spice to a story. However, nothing could be further from the truth. If an author is to entice a reader with developing character arc, such "devices," rarely work except on reruns of Murder She Wrote. Simone, who has consistently been reckoned by my readers as their favorite character, is never too far away from that other persona — Simon Geldfarb. When I decided that a principle character would be a chanteuse of note, I sorted out my own experiences concerning drag queens. To the outer world, and even the inner, drag queens are men dressed as women, outrageously over the top and something of an entertainment perk, representing the Gay male community at Gay Pride Parades. Nothing could be further from the truth. That most cross dressers are heterosexual men who glam about in their wives bras and undies is a statistical fact (I allude to it in The Jade Owl). Simone DeFleurry is a charmer — a fashion plate and a walking encyclopedia on good taste and manners. He provides Nick Battle with love and companionship as part of the double-barreled mailbox label "Geldfarb-Battle." His view of problems are often so direct, the others miss the obvious until the poignant Miss DeFleurry points the way. Simone manages some glorious feats of bravery throughout the series with swagger and posh.

When I began writing The Jade Owl, my vision of drag queens was narrow — shallow. To pepper the story with one or two could have been misconstrued as pushing stereotypes, and that would never do. I therefore opted to sit down and get to know some drag queens. It’s odd that, having degrees in Sinology, I needed little additional research into Chinese culture. Being Gay, one would think that every gay man knows the inner soul of a drag queen. WRONG. Being honest — telling my interviewees that I wanted to capture the true essence of who they were, was a bold thing to ask. I was surprised to discovered a sub-culture beneath a sub-culture that was beautiful — rich and rare. Very human, and in Simone’s own words — "I am as much a man as you are, only packaged differently." The aspects of the people beneath the boas and high heels astounded me. After all, it was the drag queens that had the bravery to start the whole Stone Wall Revolution that began the modern Gay & Lesbian Activist Movement. There were no yelling and screaming Act Up bravos then; just a fiery brace of drag queens, who demanded their rights. Simone DeFleurry represents that brand of fire — the beautiful home hearth that lights the way to a natural and normalized way of life — one that gives Nick Battle the embodiment of a father/mother/wife. One that holds the candle high for Rowden Gray, so he might grow into his own acceptance of things different. In fact, for the reader — who should feel more uncomfortable when Simone dresses as Simon Geldfarb, complete with a yellow lemon tie than when he wears his favorite red polka-dot sun dress. The sadness of Simon as opposed to the lilt of Simone is crucial.

An essential requirement for me as the author of the Jade Owl Legacy Series was to make the reader forget that the story has a drag queen amongst its stars. By the third book, The Dragon’s Pool, Simone DeFleurry is a vessel that can hold even a greater responsibility — graduating to motherhood. However, since number three in the series will not hit the streets until May, I’ll say no more.

Edward C. Patterson

The Jade Owl Legacy SeriesThe Jade Owl Third Peregrination coming soon The Dragon’s Pool, The People’s Treasure and In the Shadow of Her Hem Also coming soon, an adjunct series Southern Swallow (In Three Parts)The Academician(mid-March), Swan Cloud, and The House of Green Waters

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Professor Gray and His Garland

In The Jade Owl, Professor Rowden Gray refers to gathering the rosebuds as ye may, gathering them onto a garland — a garland which constitutes a complete strand of logical facts that can be analyzed and codified into a scholarly article for The Harvard Journal of Asian Studies. Funny thing that, because during the entire Jade Owl Legacy Series, the more rosebuds that the good Professor tacks onto the garland, the more the strand remains unresolved. In fact, after the journey that The Jade Owl’s first book reveals, Professor Gray knows as much about The Jade Owl as he did at the beginning of the tale. Of course, the wonderment of this little green devil is unraveled in the other books and also in the companion series, Southern Swallow (first book, The Academician coming in March). The logic behind its operation is not the kind that any scientist would readily understand. Rowden Gray being a scholar, even a Sinological one, he cannot perceive the truth of the matter until he, like the reader, suspends believe and basks in the full mystical legacy of Chinese spirituality, folk lore and that metaphysical property known as ch’i – a power that Lucas called the force, but the Chinese have for five millennium called spirit breath. Nonetheless, Professor Rowden Gray continues to weave this long rope of logic until it makes less sense at the end than at the beginning. His boon companion, Nick, however, views The Jade Owl and its purpose from a different perspective and is enlightened.

The garland of Rowden Gray is a notion that we all weave, like Wagner’s Norns, yielding precise measurements for life and time. However, this is a western notion. The Chinese have no such measurement. Time is illusive, and even death is a mere wall between two states. Therefore, the real challenge for Professor Gray as he leads the various followers, first in The Jade Owl and subsequently in The Third Peregrination, is to cut the stringency of the garland and let the rosebuds fly as they may. Not until he immerses himself in the randomness of it all does he come to understand the true nature of The Jade Owl and the triad that it forms with elemental nature and a curious set of earth events that other characters will study to the geologic and paleontologic depths, discovering the tick-tockings of this most curious bird.

As an aside, I chose the rosebud/gather ye reference as a homage to my own gene pool — how egoist is that? My grandmother was Hilda Herrick, a direct descendant of Robert Herrick, my ancestor who crafted that line as advice to virgins. Go figure.

The Jade Owl
The Third Peregrination