Another new story

Posted by: Barbara

Another new story - 08/07/99 10:22 AM

This one is a novella, titled "The Reluctant Op", and it's in the Sept/Oct issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, now available. At least I think it's available; my copies came in the mail yesterday.

The only name on the cover is "Ellery Queen", along with a picture of Dannay and Lee. Because this is an anniversary issue -- EQ is seventy years old.
Posted by: Jon

Re: Another new story - 08/09/99 02:47 PM

The August issue is still on the newsstands here in Seattle, Barbara, but I'll keep looking.

Incidentally, major find!! In the course of my usual vacation used-book-store searching on Saturday, in University Books (one block from UWash) I found, next to each other in the SF section, actual copies of Bibblings and Under the Canopy! I snatched them both up, of course, and have already finished the former. A full report on the former will have to wait till a time when I'm not paying $.11 a minute in a Seattle bookstore. But I was most impressed, even knowing in advance what high standards to expect from Barbara's work. Lots of twists that fit, lots of incidental bits that aren't so incidental after all, characterization that gets fleshed out without your quite realizing it at first... lovely. Just starting UTC now.

I am now one short of The Complete BP Novels (still have to find that very first one). Gotta go....
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/09/99 11:59 PM

Jon, I doubt that you're still sitting in that Seattle bookstore, but I'm still sorry I didn't answer sooner. My lightbulb didn't turn yellow.

If it's An Exercise for Madmen you're still missing, that is definitely the work of a beginner. Keep that in mind if you ever find a copy. Please keep that in mind.

Glad you liked Bibblings; I had a good time writing that one.
Posted by: Jon

Re: Another new story - 08/10/99 10:55 PM

I'm back in the store for a few minutes (prob my last time here; I leave for LA Thurs).

Just wanted to say, I've now read Under the Canopy. I'll want to talk about that more when I get back, I feel that I have lots to say. Enjoyed it much, and it reversed my expectations nicely, as planned. I'll just venture a couple of comments.

One: in addition to the acknowledged Maugham inspiration, I'm willing to bet that Barbara has met in real life (as I have) a certain kind of naively idealistic (but in fact self-centered) young devotee of "understanding people" and "being real", who really hasn't a clue.

Two: A secondary strand of this book has something in common with a secondary theme in Robert Barnard's The Skeleton in the Grass. I'll think I'll throw that one out, and expand on it when I get home next week.

[This message has been edited by Jon (edited 08-10-99).]
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/11/99 09:21 AM

>>One: in addition to the acknowledged Maugham inspiration, I'm willing to bet that Barbara has met in real life (as I have) a certain kind of naively idealistic (but in fact self-centered) young devotee of "understanding people" and "being real", who really hasn't a clue.<<

Dozens of them, Jon, dozens of them.

>>Two: A secondary strand of this book has something in common with a secondary theme in Robert Barnard's The Skeleton in the Grass.<<

I haven't read Skeleton, so I'm curious as to what this could be. Hurry back, Jon.

[This message has been edited by Barbara (edited 08-11-99).]
Posted by: Jon

Re: Another new story - 08/17/99 12:47 PM

I'm back. So I guess I owe Barbara (and anyone else who's reading) a clarification on the simililarity of theme I saw between parts of Under the Canopy and Barnard's Skeleton in the Grass. I'll just preface this by warning that I'll have to deal with SPOILERS in case anybody plans to read Barnard (in UTC it's right up front), and that I hope we all understand that I'm not remotely talking about one author imitating another? -- just justifiably similar insights? Good, I thought so.

In both cases we shown the downside of people trying to pretend that everybody's socially equal when in fact they're really not and everyone would be better off if there was no pretense. In both books this applies to "how to deal with servants," but I've run up against the same thing in interacting with students -- we can all be on friendly terms, but in the end we're not all on the same basis; I decide on their grades (and thus, sometimes, their future).

Anyway: Stephanie (Barbara's character) is trying not to treat her servants as servants, so she does what she wants (throwing her used clothing anywhere, having meals when she feels like it, going into the kitchen for a snack and leaving everything out) and thus in fact causes great inconvenience and resentment.

In Barnard's book, a middle-class academic/liberal sort of family have unexpectedly inherited a manor house and estate. They're embarrassed about becoming "that sort of person" (the squire who has a staff of servants) so they make do with one fulltime cook/maid and otherwise hire daily help from nearby for what work has to be done. What they don't realize is that this is actually very inconvenient for those who live in the area and could formerly count on fulltime jobs but now can't. Plus, it insulates the family from the surrounding community and means that they never really become part of it. In their own way (though they don't see it), they're just as snobbish as what they're trying to avoid ("our kind of people" being intellectual cosmopolitan folk).

The protgonist of the story is a young woman who goes to work for them as a nanny/tutor for the youngest child. She lives in, and they welcome her as part of the family, first names immediately and so on. She's delighted with their warmth and charm. Only later does she see that their casualness about the terms of her employment makes things rather hard for her: rather than settling on definite hours they just say "oh please ask for time off whenever you like -- you can always have some"; so she's reluctant to ask too often and in fact works very long hours.

Does this seem a fair comparison?

[This message has been edited by Jon (edited 08-17-99).]
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/17/99 05:12 PM

Yes, it does. Barnard's family and Stephanie sound very much alike: liberals in theory but lacking even the faintest understanding of how to put that theory into practice. And unwilling to make the effort to find out. Stephanie is young and full of herself and hasn't learned good judgement yet...but what's their excuse?

From what you say, it sounds as if the main difference between our books is merely structural: he sends a young woman with a reasonable outlook into an environment of muddled thinking, while the the young woman I send into a stable environment introduces the muddlement (how's that for a neologism?). I guess Barnard and I both got fed up with mouth-liberals.

BTW, I'm slightly miffed with Barnard. He beat me to a title I was once planning to use: Death on the High C's.
Posted by: Jon

Re: Another new story - 08/18/99 12:41 PM

Sounds like we're in agreement.

One detail or two more about the Barnard: the young woman (sorry, I'm at work and can't look up her name) comes from a repressive small-village background -- when her mother dies in the course of the book and she travels home for the funeral, she finds that everyone in town assumes that she, as the single daughter, will now live with her father and look after him. (It's the sort of corny-but-satisfying moment that makes the reader want to cheer when she brushes aside all such assumptions, arranges for "daily help" for a few hours during his day, says "I don't see why a man should be incapable of heating some soup or making a sandwich at night," and goes back to her nanny job). So the family that employs her, intelligent and caring and welcoming as they are, seem a kind of haven to her -- she recognizes near the end that she fell in love with them, in a way. And as we see through her eyes, it's only in the course of the book that we see that they have their own deficiencies and danger for her, all the more so perhaps for being hidden. (But by the end she realizes that seeing them as evil is an overreaction too; they're imperfect, like most of us.)

On your other point, I can see why being pre-empted on the High C's title would be annoying. I do recall, though, that an early-1970s Luciano Pavarotti album was called "King of the High C's," so in a way he (or Decca/London Records) beat you both to it.
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/18/99 03:44 PM

I think I still have that record. An interesting point is that only play titles can be copyrighted, so I could still use that title legally, if I were foolhardy enough to do so. Two years after Under the Canopy was published, another book came out with that same title -- the memoirs of a woman who'd been shacked up with a Recently Deceased Very Famous Writer whom I'd never heard of.
Posted by: Jon

Re: Another new story - 08/19/99 04:21 PM

Gee, it seems almost like wandering off-topic to return to the original point of this list, and mention that I just finished "The Reluctant Op."

Our author is full of surprises, eh? I don't recall a story quite like this from her before (of course I could say that about any number of her previous titles too). The waterfront atmosphere, as mentioned in the web summary, is one of the more flavorful things about it, but there's also the characterization of the op herself, and the dilemma she finds herself in, and the particular way the tale unfolds. All most satisfying.

I'd be interested in knowing more, if I'm supposed to, about the "project with other writers to constuct a completely fictional world."

Anyway, thanks for some pleasurable reading.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Another new story - 08/20/99 05:35 PM

Barbara, your comment re =Death on the High C's= got me to thinking.....

I can't remember ever hearing of a tale called "B Flat." (Preferably with the flat symbol that I can't remember how to make in ASCII.)

Seems like that would be a natural* for a musical death by fall-from-great-heights.....

I loved =Under the Canopy= too, btw...what I admired most about it was how perfectly you kept the two main characters (can't think of either one as protagonists, actually) poised in opposition...and refrained from making any moral judgements yourself in the course of the book.

* unintentional pun, I swear it!
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/21/99 10:04 AM

Ah, thank you, Ree. It always pleases me no end to find out someone has enjoyed that book.

B Flat would make a very good title indeed (although I suspect the flat symbol would drive the cataloguers nuts). In fact, it ought to be possible to get a whole series of mystery titles from musical terms -- Passion Music, Quick Step, Unequal Temperament, Imbroglio.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Another new story - 08/22/99 09:16 PM

Hello Barbara,

I picked up EQMM primarily because I'm a longtime Ellery Queen fan. So it was also nice to discover a new writer along with the familiar ones. I enjoyed "Reluctant Op" and was also curious if there will be other stories set in this universe.

Julia aka MizP
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/23/99 03:46 PM

Hello, mizprkr. Sorry you haven't caught Jarod yet.

Yes, there will be more stories with Callie in Port Wolfe, but not immediately. I want to write one in a few months (after I wrap up what I'm working on now); but it won't be published for at least a year after that, probably longer. The publishing industry is not known for its speed.

"The Reluctant Op" is the result of a writing project I was involved in with other writers. We were putting together an anthology of mystery stories similar to the "shared world" anthos in SF; all the stories were to take place in our fictional Port Wolfe. (We even had a street plan of the place.) Each of us had a major character, and there was crossover among the stories; the leading character of one story would have a small part in another, etc. It took one hell of a lot of planning. The woman Callie goes to for help in tracking down the registry of the Sofia was one of the other writers' major character; the man on night duty at the Bass Agency that Callie reports to was another.

But we couldn't sell the anthology. The editors we submitted the ms. to liked the concept, but the sales departments, in every case, said no -- for whatever reason was fashionable that month. Very few editors can make autonomous decisions any more; it's the sales people who decide what gets published and what doesn't.

So in the end we just agreed to try to sell our stories individually. And that's why "The Reluctant Op" appeared in Ellery Queen.

Jon, I completely missed your upstream question about the writing project; I hope this answers it.

[This message has been edited by Barbara (edited 08-23-99).]
Posted by: Ree

Re: Another new story - 08/23/99 05:18 PM

I love shared-world universes (have never seen one in anything but SF&F genre, tho); can you tell us anything about the other writers involved, or the initial stories?
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/26/99 02:39 PM

Sorry not to have responded sooner, but I've been kind of out of things. I had to have a much-loved cat put to sleep. His name was Daniel, and I'm having difficulty saying goodbye.

About the Port Wolfe project. We worked on it on and off for a couple of years, and during that time the participants changed a little -- a few drop-outs, a few drop-ins. But at some time or another, the following all contributed to the project: Peter Torville, Katie Daniel, Toni Kelner, J. R. Redmann, Peter Heck, Bruce Rogers, Tony Fennelly, and moi. It all started when some of us were talking on Genie and wondering why the shared-world concept so popular in SF and fantasy had never been tried in the mystery field. So we decided to do it ourselves.

It's still a good idea, I think. But the project is dead as a doornail.
Posted by: Ree

Re: Another new story - 08/26/99 03:22 PM

Saying goodbye is never easy. I'm very sorry to hear about Daniel.

The book concept was a wonderful idea, could have been a lot of fun, and I wish it had worked out.

Idiot marketers.

[This message has been edited by Ree (edited 08-26-99).]
Posted by: David Dvorkin

Re: Another new story - 08/26/99 05:13 PM

I'm very sorry to hear about Daniel.
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/27/99 09:22 AM

Ree and David -- thank you.
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Another new story - 08/27/99 09:38 AM

I'm so sorry to hear about Daniel. He was the cat that Hugo in "Scat" was based on, right?
Posted by: Rita

Re: Another new story - 08/27/99 12:18 PM

I'm so sorry, Barbara. I hope Daniel had a long life.
Posted by: Barbara

Re: Another new story - 08/27/99 07:10 PM

Vicki -- Yes, Daniel was the model for Hugo in "Scat", but I exaggerated some. Daniel never did trust people; I was the only one he'd let touch him (once he found out how good petting feels). The vet used to groan when I'd bring him in. I really do miss that ornery cat.

Rita -- Yes, he did have a long life...21 or 22 years. He was five when he moved in with me (vet's guess), and that was a good 16 or 17 years ago. Daniel weighed three pounds when he died.