The Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico

The  Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico
The Model for the Maitre d'Armes

Monday, July 21, 2014

Phineas at Large

Well, it's been a bit longer than expected, but Phineas at Bay is now available for your reading pleasure:
“Phineas at Bay is at once an entertaining romp and a serious inquiry into how Victorian problems are also our own. It is a pleasure to read.”—Nicholas Birns, author of Understanding Anthony Powell.

Set in 1890s England, Phineas at Bay picks up where Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series left off: now two decades after the unconventional marriage of Phineas Finn, an Irish Catholic, to the Viennese Jewish widow Marie "Madame Max" Goesler.

Phineas has become an almost entirely independent member of Parliament, nominally belonging to the Liberal Party. But his independence has come at a cost. Having made no political gains, his own party no longer takes him seriously. But an awakening of his political and social conscience leads him to revitalize his political activism and become involved in the newly forming Labour Party.

Meanwhile the rivalry between Socialist Jack Chiltern and the newest member of Parliament, Savrola Vavasor, the two suitors of Phineas’s orphaned niece, Clarissa Riley, draws Phineas into becoming the maĆ®tre d’armes at a violent duel.

And alongside all the other action, the beautiful Lady Elizabeth Eustace adds to the drama with her shady past and her entanglements with Jack and her ex-husband, a clergyman with a dark reputation of his own.

Scholar and lawyer John F. Wirenius sets the Victorian-era author’s pointed satire loose on today’s political and social excesses, creating a novel that can be read alone or in conjunction with Trollope’s novels.
Having Nicholas Birns's encouragement, after hearing his first-rate lecture on the "Phineas Diptych" as he called the two original novels--Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux--was a great spur toward completion; my editor Karen Clark was enthusiastic in the best way--forcing me to not settle for easy paths out, but to keep working to make it the best book it could be; Susan Wright's feedback and brio for the project, and that of my own father, all kept me writing.

Mostly, of course, though, I did it for la Caterina, who had urged me back in 2006 to tackle the project.

It's out now, and I'll be pushing it, of course. But I can tell you this: I wrote it for the love of some of the most rich and three-dimensional characters in English literature, and their brilliant, bluff (but really tender as thistledown) creator. And I did my best by them, and him.

I hope you'll stop by and have a peep at the book, and maybe even buy it. And if you haven't read the originals--well, you've a treat in store.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Woman Who Kept Going

When, after many years of its being a "lost episode," the BBC recovered "The Web of Fear" and "The Enemy of the World", of course I bought them on iTunes. Well, yes, of course I did--and immediately watched "Enemy," the famous James Bond pastiche. It was a corker--inspired, silly, funny, and genuinely tense--it had something of the the flavor of a Doctor Who-Avengers crossover. (The fact that Troughton played the titular villain, Salamander, as a Mexican would be quite problematic if any effort to do so was discernible--Salamander is definitely not-English, but that's really all you can get from Troughton's hilarious, Clouseau-esque accent, and he plays the part as charming, intelligent, and the mirror image of his Doctor. Troughting playing the Doctor pretending to be Salamander is funny; Troughton playing Salamander pretending to be the Doctor is hilarious; Trogughton playing Salamander pretending to be the Doctor pretending to be Salamander is uproarious. The man was a brilliant actor.)

But I held off on Web. The yeti seemed abject 20 years later in The Five Doctors, and then of course there's Downtime:

So, even though Web is the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier, I was…reluctant to actually watch the thing. Actually, I needn't have been. Yes, the yeti are a bit crap. But the performances, the direction, the plot--I watched all six episodes in one go, and enjoyed it immensely.

One of the guest stars, Tina Packer, struck me as being really quite good, and I wondered why I had never heard of her anywhere else. A quick google search turned up a great explanation from 2009:
Packer is also exploring the director/actor relationship, from a different perspective. “When I was rehearsing it,” she says, “I kept thinking, well, when do I take over the action, you know? And I realized I never take over the action.”

Packer is used to being in charge, as artistic director of Shakespeare & Company. She founded it in the Berkshires three decades ago. But now Packer is stepping down to go back to acting. It was actually her first career, in her twenties, in England.

“I wouldn’t say I was famous famous but, you know I did one of the those Mobile Masterpiece Theatre pieces. And I did “Doctor Who,” which is what everybody remembers me for in this country now,” she laughs.

“You know at the time I did it I was trying to pretend I wasn’t doing it, you know, because I was a classical actress.”

A frustrated classical actress, she admits, with the Royal Shakespeare Company. “I couldn’t have the effect on theatre I wanted to have as an actor,” she says. “Because actors don’t have any power.”

At the time she was obsessed with Shakespeare, but she wanted to approach his texts her own way. This ran against the genteel delivery style most teachers and directors embraced.

“Annunciating, pushing the vowels to the front of the mouth — especially for the women,” Packer says. “It’s all nonsense; Shakespeare’s dirty as hell and full of life and full of vivacity.”

So Packer abandoned her career as an actor in England, raised some money in the U.S., and founded her own company in the Berkshires. She was one of the first women to direct Shakespeare professionally. Packer says it’s a natural fit.

“Because we are good at multi-tasking, you’re following 10 themes and there’s a lot of people on stage and you’ve got to arrange them,” she says. “It’s like having a giant family.”

Running this company is also like nurturing a family — a family of 150 core members — and Packer is the mom. From fundraising to cleaning toilets to cooling family feuds, she does it all. And has from the beginning, according to Tony Simotes.

“As people grew and changed and went to different places, it was really Tina’s heart and soul that kept maintaining, in a sense, the mothership,” Simotes said.

Simotes came to the Berkshires as an actor with Tina 30 years ago. He says it changed his life. They gathered a band of professional players and practically squatted in buildings just down the road from here, at Edith Wharton’s estate, also known as The Mount. It was a creative commune, Simotes says. But like a real family, it wasn’t all love and roses.
What an extraordinary person, and what a life well lived--and still going strong.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Phineas Redux: The Final Proof

So, as I mentioned, the last step before publication is my approval of the final cover as it has been applied to the actual physical book. This, of course, required the arrival of the final physical proof:

(The slight bumping to the top spine was my fault--I got caught in the torrential downpour today, and to save the book, which I had brought to lunch to show a friend, so I pushed it quickly, but not elegantly bak into the mailer sleeve.)

Oh, and here is the back:

(I'm not a great photographer, but I hope these convey the basic aesthetic of the book.)

Once I approve it, the book will be converted to be available in e-book form, and then we go live.

Very soon, now, Phineas will re-enter the lists. And the story's fate will be very much up to the market--readers, reviewers, and commenters.

But, for now, I have a book in hand that I have authored that looks very much as I hoped it would, and has a nice heft in hand.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The C of E Steps Forward

From the Independent:
Centuries of institutional inequality at the most senior levels in the Church of England were swept away today after the General Synod finally voted in favour of legislation paving the way for women bishops. There were scenes of jubilation as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, won an overwhelming majority for his package of measures designed to win over the support of traditionalists whilst staving off a crisis after Parliament threatened to intervene.

There were cheers from supporters in Central Hall at the University of York where the three Houses of the Synod – Bishops, Clergy and Laity - had been locked in a day of impassioned debate.

Backers of the measures – the most controversial since the ordination of women priests was passed by a single vote two decades ago – celebrated with champagne and looked forward to the prospect of the first female bishop being appointed within a matter of months.

Archbishop Welby had been prepared to drive through the change in the event of a repeat of the shock no vote from the House of Laity which blocked the move two years ago.

In the end it was not necessary after months of mediation between opposing factions delivered 95 per cent of the votes of bishops, 87 per cent of clergy and 77 per cent of the laity – far and above the two thirds needed to bring about the historic change.
Good news for those sharing the Good News. The world just got a little bit more just.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Geeking Out: Star Trek, BtVS, &c

This clip (audio only, I'm afraid) combines a remarkable array of fandoms: It's Anthony Stewart Head of BtVS fame (and a great guest star on Doctor Who), at a Star Trek convention, doing a number from Chess.

What does it say that YouTube recommended it to me?

Ah, well; I'll go with Alec Hardison: Age of the geek, baby!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Real Thing in the World

Today I received a notification--actually just now, I received a notification--that my initial author's copy of Phineas at Bay has shipped to me. Assuming nothing has gone wrong in the process, the next move will be to go live in both paperback and Kindle form.

It feels like it's been a long time coming, since I first conceived of the book over six years ago, but when I remember that the complete first draft restarted from chapter 3 in April 2013, and a complete draft finished by the end of November of the same year, and that my extraordinary editor Karen Clark and I went through three drafts, not to mention the cover and book design, and proofs, and all of the marketing materials--why, it's been a whirlwind, really.

(Let me mention that Karen has her own novel, which she has entrusted to my care as editor, and which I think will deservedly make quite a splash when launched. It's a finely wrought story, contemporary in every way, and yet with powerful literary resonance. I won't say more yet, but I want to express my gratitude for the fact that I have had the benefit of being edited by a first-rate writer.)

So this isn't the post in which I urge you all to go to my Amazon page (it's not live yet, for one thing) and hope that many of you will find it interesting, and in whatever format, buy.

This is the post in which I ask you to share with me the strangest satisfaction, a calm before what I hope will be a storm. You see, I have since childhood loved books with a passion; fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and prose alike. I was an English major, and have read obsessively all my life--but with a special love for the novel, that seemingly simple, but endlessly variable, addictive art form. And I order a lot of books online, whether in e-book--I predominantly use Kindle--or from major publishers, or, most often, from independent bookstores.

But the book coming in the mail this time, jacketed, illustrated, finished, "rounded off and bright and done," (to steal from H.G. Wells via T.H. White, as applied to his own epic)--this finished work of fiction?

It's my own. I have written a novel, quality yet to be assayed. But--I have done the thing.

Something to savor while I wait for it to arrive. Something to savor, whatever its fate and reception.

Wish Phineas and me luck!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Crossover Not Taken...

Over at the Anthony Trollope Society Facebook page, things got a touch silly last night. When I pointed out all the overlaps between Doctor Who and The Pallisers --I wrote, "in the 1970s adaptation of the Pallisers, Derek Jacobi (Professor Yana/the Master in the Doctor Who episode "Utopia" played Lord Fawn; Anthony Ainley (the Master in classic Doctor Who) played Rev. Emilius, and Philip Latham (Lord President of Gallifrey Borusa) played Plantagenet. This led to a suggestion: "an episode in which Trollope is a vampire hunter, Henry James is a vampire, and George Eliot is the intended victim (saved by the hero at the last minute, naturally)."

Right. That's all I ever need:
TARDIS lands in an alley opposite the Universe Club. THE DOCTOR (David Tennant, I rather think) steps out, followed by, oh, let's make it DONNA NOBLE]

DOCTOR: London, but what era?

A scream is heard]

DONNA: Oi, Alien boy, that's our cue.

[GEORGE ELIOT runs past, calling over her shoulder]: Sir, your bloodthirst is as endless as your sentences!


DONNA:: That was George Eliot, yeah? Silas Marner, Mill on the Floss?


HENRY JAMES follows in hot pursuit, calling out: Come, Mary Ann; Yield to me! Let us mingle our inkwells!

DONNA: Yeah, that's a terrible chat-up line.

ANTHONY TROLLOPE runs past, arms with stake and hammer; sees Doctor and Donna.

TROLLOPE: You! Young Man! Aid me, against this word-spewing fiend, lest he revise the novels he wrote in life yet again!

DOCTOR (whips out sonic, pursues) Allons-y!

[sting; cue theme]