The cult section of the literary world

Posts tagged “historical fiction

Book Trailer for The Door That Faced West

Cover_TDTFW

A friend suggested I make a book trailer for my new novel—The Door That Faced West, released by Lazy Fascist Press—using my illustrations that appear in the book. I used imovie and it came out pretty well.

Click on this link to view the trailer. If the film doesn’t appear right away, wait just a moment–it will be there.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon


Women and Children in the Time of The Door That Faced West

(In this post, I speak in general terms about women’s issues in the years 1799-1800. Exceptions to what I’ll note existed, but they were few and far between.)

The point-of-view character in my new novel, The Door That Faced West, (released in February by Lazy Fascist Press) is a sixteen-year-old woman named Sadie from North Carolina. She is escaping the abuse of her father. Since he has absolute authority over everything in her life and depends on her labor to get by, if she is to get away from him, she must go somewhere that he will not search for her. She must flee into the wilderness to the west, but she knows that to survive, she’ll need to be with people who know the territory and are tough enough to fight and defend against the dangers to be found there.

In the time in which the story takes place, children and unmarried women were frequently laborers. A child’s efforts could be employed by their parents or sold as a commodity to another master. Women had no legal identity as separate from that of their husbands or, if unmarried, the eldest male member of their families. A woman could not take part in a contract, own property, find her own job, own the wages she earned, or initiate any legal proceeding, such as a divorce or law suit. Many women lived their lives, working and bearing children under near-slavish conditions. If a woman was lucky, she received a primary education, but had no opportunities for schooling beyond that. She had no say in political or economic issues. If a woman was abused, she had little chance of redress unless some male person who had the leverage to do so took it upon himself to address the problem on her behalf. If she bore children, whether legitimate or illegitimate, the offspring belonged to the man considered to be the child’s father whether he was a fit parent or not.

These legally institutionalized attitudes toward children and women may be appalling to us now, but were a given in the eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth century, and had a destructive effect on countless lives. In The Door That Faced West, these issues play a major role in driving the plot and are demonstrated in the thinking and motivations of the characters of the novel.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Paperback at amazon.com- $12.95

Kindle Edition – $7.95


The Criminal Climate in The Door That Faced West

“The Brothers Harpe” copyright©2014 Alan M. Clark

Throughout life, hope for a better future can encourage us to strive for our own betterment and to contribute to that of our family, friends, and community, but the circumstances of our birth can dictate what options we have available. If the options are grim, we have few choices, and little hope, we can become opportunists with little regard for those around us and turn to criminal activity to better our lot in life.

The rather obvious statements I’ve made about human experience are as true today as they were 200 years ago, yet imagine a time when the circumstances of our birth had much more influence over what was possible for us in life. My new novel, The Door That Faced West, released by Lazy Fascist Press, takes place in America in such a time, the years 1799 and 1800. In that period, a class system reigned within American society, much as it did in Europe. The quality of one’s clothing and other possessions, appearance of health and physical development, accent, and vocabulary of speech were signals of one’s station in life. If an individual was seen to be a poor, then in that low station that one would most likely remain throughout life. The class system was an age-old contrivance that allowed those in higher stations, those with wealth, to support each other while jealously guarding their advantage. The disparity between the haves and have-nots was large. The majority of Americans were poor, underfed, over-worked, and willing to consider underhanded measures to better themselves. They were often so desperate for a better life, they were easy for those well-to-do to manipulate.

Nearly fifty percent of immigrants to America from Europe came as indentured servants. An indentured servant was one who was contracted to work for his or her master to pay off a debt. Many of those who came to America were paying off the debt of passage to the continent by serving a term of four or more years of work for the master, generally the captain of the ship that bore them across the sea. Once in America, the ship captains sold the indentures to employers and the servants then had new masters.

A master had nearly complete control over how the indentured was treated; the quality of food, shelter, and clothing provided, and control over the servant’s hours of rest and labor. Largely, that treatment was not subject to review or questioning by others. Indentured servants mistreated by their masters frequently ran away and became wanted. Newspapers advertised rewards for their capture and return. If a person with an appearance of being poor arrived in a community, any concerned male citizen could stop and question the individual. If the person was found to be an indentured servant, they were returned to their master. Indentured servitude could be virtual slavery except for the fact that the contracts defined a time limit for service.

Indentured servitude was only one of several methods of binding the poor to highly controlled positions of labor. Conditions for those in apprenticeships were frequently not much better. If greedy, those with power over other’s lives could push their charges to the breaking point in an attempt to gain as much service as possible.

Some born into poor families sought to raise their social status by gaining glory in the military. A bold man who acquitted himself heroically on the field of battle could earn respect and thereby rise to a somewhat better station. The fear existed that life could be cut short in battle, however, and the life of a soldier was often extremely harsh. Frequently men were pushed too hard and desertion was common.

The labor of many wives and children was considered of primary importance in helping a family to survive. A hard man, husband, father or both, much like a greedy master, might work his family to the bone to make ends meet. One generation of cruelty often begat a similar one.

For the poor, the potential for suffering inhumanity in most walks of life was high, much of the callousness institutionalized as appropriate and important aspect of maintaining order and discipline. Under harsh conditions, desperation drove many individuals to criminal acts in order to survive. To hide from those pursuing them for their crimes or their masters, many fled into territories where the law was less likely to find them.

The vastness of the wilderness of the new states of Tennessee and Kentucky in the years in which The Door That Faced West takes place, 1799 and 1800, was intimidating to most Americans, yet could be a haven for criminals. To some outlaws, it was a playground. The dense, seemingly endless forest that stretched from the east coast to the Mississippi and beyond was a dangerous area in which human lives were frequently lost due to exposure to the elements, accidents, or deadly encounters with forest animals or Indians. The best land for hunting, much of middle Tennessee and Kentucky, was sacred to the Indians, and they were willing to kill to defend it. Many of the non-indigenous persons who entered that forest to hunt, to carve out a home, to help develop a new settlement, or merely to explore, were never heard from again, lost without a trace. A few more lives lost to the activities of brigands in the forest was hardly noticed.

Inevitably, settlements sprang up along rivers and well-worn animal and Indian traces, but the going was rough. The forest was largely uninterrupted in the eastern half of the continent, and had never been logged. The trees were massive, blocking out much of the light and making farming difficult if not impossible. Under the forest canopy, sometimes hidden beneath the undergrowth as well, were swamps that might be the size of a small pond or cover hundreds of square miles in area. These bogs were rimmed with canebrakes that were nearly impossible to penetrate. Consequently, what traffic there was through the wilderness—those traveling for personal reasons or involved in commerce—was often funneled along the well-worn paths. Criminals had only to wait, hidden in the forest along the traces, until victims happened along. Leaving no witnesses became a standard for seasoned footpads since the immensity of the forest allowed bodies to be easily hidden. Frequently the victims were never found and countless murders during the period went unpunished.

Within settlements, law and order was loosely held by those who appeared tough enough to do the job. Often those were men with criminal backgrounds, willing to do whatever they thought they could get away with to better their positions. Facing possible death in order to fight crime was not at the top of their agenda.

Communication between settlements was poor. Going through the rumor mill as it travelled, information communicated between settlements was often unreliable. With a few outrageous acts, an outlaw’s persona could become larger than life and twice as intimidating within a short time.

The environment described in this post, both geographical and societal, is the landscape in which The Door That Faced West takes place; one in which a couple of ruthless, opportunistic brothers with bloodlust might rampage with impunity for an extended length of time, and, indeed, they did.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Paperback at amazon.com- $12.95

Kindle Edition – $7.95


The Flotsam and Jetsam of History: Some of Why I Like Writing Historical Fiction

If you love words as I do, you’ve got to love history.  Although many expressions that came into existence long ago are still in use and their meanings as idioms are clear to us, the original meanings of the phrases may be lost without a search in history.  Sometimes the original meaning is lost because we use the words differently now.

Because the gun played such a large role in events over the last few centuries, many idioms are related to firearms of the past.  Here are a few that are still widely used, but the context of their origination not widely known.

Lock stock and barrel is an expression we use to mean “all of it.” I used to think it meant the whole store, like a mercantile of some kind. It means the whole rifle or musket. The lock is the firing mechanism, the barrel is, well… self-explanatory, and the stock is the part that helps you hold onto the firearm.

Bite the bullet means expose yourself to possible pain and danger to get a job done. Many people believe it originally meant to bite down on a lead bullet to endure pain, perhaps while having a surgical experience without an anesthetic, but it comes from a time when to prepare a rifle for firing you had to bite the end off a paper-wrapped cartridge before placing its contents in the barrel of your firearm. Doing this while under fire took brave resolve.

Stick to your guns means remain true to principles or goals. The expression has less to do with guns per se and more to do with maintaining a particular post during battle, especially if you’re told to hold a position without retreating. Well, of course you will need that gun, won’t you?

Flash in the pan in an idiom we use to mean a great start but little or no follow up. It’s a great metaphor for a one hit wonder in the music industry who puts out a single very popular tune, yet never does any better afterward and soon falls out of favor.  To do justice to this one takes some explaining, so bear with me.

The original meaning comes from a time when pistols, muskets, and rifles had flint lock firing mechanisms.  To load a flintlock firearm, gunpowder was poured into the barrel followed by a lead ball, called “shot,” wrapped in a bit of rag to make it fit snugly and hold everything in place. A small pan beside a hole in the side of the barrel was primed with a little gunpowder and then protected from spillage by a hinged iron part called a frizzin (see the diagramed illustration above).  When the trigger of the flintlock was pulled, the hammer, which held a piece of flint did two things: it struck sparks off the iron frizzin and knocked that hinged part off the pan.  With the frizzin out of the way, the sparks could reach the powder in the pan and ignite it.  The hot expanding gas of the lit powder was meant to travel down the small hole in the side of the barrel and ignite the powder behind the lead shot.  If this last step didn’t occur, there was merely a flash in the pan and the gun didn’t actually fire.

Understanding the metaphor of this idiom creates a mental picture that enhances the meaning of the expression. A flash in the pan is an exciting event, with a hiss, a flash, and billowing smoke, but the results are disappointing if that isn’t followed by the loud crack of the shot flying from the barrel and striking a target. Without the mental picture some of the power of the expression’s metaphor is lost.

The original meanings of many single words are unknown to most of us today. I’m thinking of several having to do with the production of linen.  A lining, like what you might have in the inside surface of your coat, means something made from line flax. Line flax is the fibers of the flax plant that don’t break off when run through a device that looks like a small bed of nails called a hackle (aka heckle). The fibers that survive going through a hackle and remain long are spun together to make fine linen thread (note the word “line” in “linen”). So a lining is something made of linen. The lining of my stomach or my water heater is not made of linen, though. When my dog gets upset, wants to look bigger and more threatening, he gets his hackles up, but that doesn’t mean he has metal spikes sticking up out of his back. In the past, the flax fibers that broke off short in a hackle were called tow flax. They weren’t good enough to make fine thread and were spun into a rough cord to make tow sacks, which are much like the burlap sacks of today.  Tow fibers are very blonde, but a tow-headed child doesn’t have tow flax for hair even if the tyke is referred to as flaxen-haired. The act of drawing flax fibers through a hackle is known as heckling. The purpose was to worry, to tease (in the old sense, meaning to comb), and straighten the fibers to determine which would stand up to stress and were worth using for linen production. When a stand-up comedian is heckled, that doesn’t mean he’s drawn through a small bed of nails to straighten his fibers and break off his weak parts. Okay, so maybe it does mean he’s being teased, but still, you get my point.

Here’s an expression I like a lot: flotsam and Jetsam. It’s not the most commonly known phrase, but it’s still a fun one using curious words, and I want to use it in the last paragraph of this post. We use it now to mean odds and ends. For example, somebody might say, “The project is finished except for the flotsam and jetsam of small problems I discovered along the way.” Flotsam and jetsam are separate nautical terms, but frequently appear together, both as words and in the context in which the words have meaning.  Flotsam is the remnants of a shipwreck that floats on the sea after a vessel has gone down.  Jetsam is what is jettisoned from a ship going down to lighten its load and help it stay afloat longer.

In the time in which the idiom, flash in the pan, came into existence, the context from which it emerged was well-known to most individuals. An expression like that becomes popular perhaps because it’s frequently used in conversation as a metaphor in lieu of lengthier descriptions. If an idiom becomes useful enough that it’s overused and becomes cliché, it will be so universally understood that the significance of its original context can be discarded. It can far outlive the simple context of its birth. The idiom still performs a meaningful function although many who hear it and repeat it may not understand where it came from. Although the expression, flash in the pan is very much alive, having outlived the technology of the flintlock by more than a century, the metaphor it presents can be considered broken since most people today don’t understand how the firing mechanism works. I’ve heard and used many idioms for years in partial ignorance. As I became more interested in history, the original meaning of some idioms came clear. Finding the discovery satisfying, I became much more curious about the origins of words and phrases.

I like to think of idioms with broken metaphors as flotsam of history. The ship has long since gone under, taking its passengers with it. Phrases remain, floating above the wreckage on the surface like lost luggage, filled with words that once had specific meaning, and, in combination, still have an idiomatic meaning. The specific sense of the words might have been lost, but the phrases still have value. We all claim salvage rights from time to time, but often don’t ask the simple questions: Who owned these expressions and why did they find them valuable?  If we seek answers to the questions, we can learn something about those who left them behind and perhaps find out why the phrases float so well even today.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon


New Novel – THE DOOR THAT FACED WEST


My latest novel, The Door That Faced West, is out now from Lazy Fascist Press.

Here’s what Brian Keene said about it:

“It is not hyperbole to say that Alan M. Clark’s The Door That Faced West left me absolutely stunned. A thoughtfully haunting blend of historical fiction and thriller, this is one of Clark’s best works to date, across any medium. Simply amazing, and undoubtedly one of the best books you’ll read this year.”

Brian Keene, bestselling author of The Rising and Ghoul


Dilation Exercise 77

In an effort to promote my new novel, A PARLIAMENT OF CROWS, released by Lazy Fascist Press, I created the Dilation Exercise below using an excerpt from the novel. The novel is inspired by the three infamous Wardlaw sisters. This Dilation Exercise breaks my rule of only two lines of caption.

Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

“Detective Robert Walker testified that burnt fragments of the bones of a human infant were found in the furnace of the tenement where you and your family lived in Brooklyn. Do you know anything about the tiny bones, Miss Mortlow?”

Although she had her suspicions about Orphia’s role, and that of her sister, Carolee, in the disappearance of the infant, thankfully Vertiline didn’t know the truth. “No,” she said. She clenched her jaw, glanced at the jury, and was disturbed that she couldn’t read their expressions.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “In the Furnace” copyright © 2012 Alan M. Clark.


Dilation Exercise 74

In an effort to promote my new novel, A PARLIAMENT OF CROWS, released by Lazy Fascist Press, I created the Dilation Exercise below using an excerpt from the novel. The novel is inspired by the three infamous Wardlaw sisters. This Dilation Exercise breaks my rule of only two lines of caption.

In the late fall of 1898, persuaded by his mother that suicide was his best course of action, James boarded a train headed for Louisville, Kentucky with the intention of leaping from the locomotive at a great speed and dashing his brains out on the rough ballast around the tracks. He leapt shortly after the train left the station in Christiansboro, before much speed had accumulated. He broke a leg in the fall and was a burden to the family until he healed many months later.

Spring of 1900, James leapt into the well, but he thrashed about and cried so long and hard for help that trying to ignore him became an embarrassment, and a rescue commenced. With each attempt on his life, the activity and drama served only to draw unwanted attention from the parents of the college students and from folks in town.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “Down the Hole (revised)” copyright © 2001 Alan M. Clark.


Dilation Exercise 73

In an effort to promote my new novel, A PARLIAMENT OF CROWS, released by Lazy Fascist Press, I created the Dilation Exercise below. The novel is inspired by the three infamous Wardlaw sisters.

When they were all young, Vertiline’s miscreant twin sisters frequently succeeded in avoiding punishment by remaining silent and thereby creating a confusion of identity.

Now that they were adults and their larger crimes might raise suspicions, Vertiline employed something like the twins’ early tactic, insisting that she and her sisters continuously wear mourning clothes.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “The Twins in Black” copyright © 2012 Alan M. Clark.


Dilation Exercise 72

In an effort to promote my new novel, A PARLIAMENT OF CROWS, released on Halloween by Lazy Fascist Press, I’ve created a Dilation Exercise to help promote the book. The historical fiction novel is inspired by the life and crimes of the three infamous Wardlaw sisters. This Dilation Exercise is inspired by a courtroom scene in the novel.

The prosecutor turned to Vertiline and said, “Are you asking us to believe, Miss Mortlow, that the additional suicide notes, seemingly one for every occasion, apparently written in your handwriting and found among your effects in a house devoid of writing implements and ink, were in fact penned by the deceased who was at the time bedridden in your care?”

Vertiline took a quick, panicked breath before responding, knowing the jury would never believe her answer.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “Original Sin” copyright © 1992 Alan M. Clark. Revised version of an interior illustration for Asimov’s Science Fiction, appearing with the novelette, “Original Sin,” by Phillip C. Jennings.

Captions are original to this post and have nothing to do with the literary project with which the artwork first appeared.


Writing the Human Experience: Guest Blogger Molly Tanzer on her Debut, A Pretty Mouth

(With Molly Tanzer’s permission, I have copied here her guest blog post from my Imagination Fully Dilated Blog.  If you’d like to see her post on my blog, here’s a link.  In her post, there’s a link to her blog where you can read my part of our exchange. —Alan M. Clark)

I asked Alan Clark about the possibility of doing a blog-exchange to give readers (and potential readers) some insight into our most recent works—my debut, A Pretty Mouth, and his 5th novel, A Parliament of Crows. He graciously agreed, so huzzah! Today, you can read my post on his blog—actually, I guess you already are—and his on mine.

I specifically asked Alan about doing a blog exchange because his 5th novel, Of Thimble and Threat, was one of the best books I read last year. Oh, and his latest has a bit of overlap with mine. (Alan talks about this very thing over on my blog, so that’s another reason to go read it!)

I read Thimble because our mutual publisher, Cameron Pierce, sent me an ARC. He thought I would like it, and I did, I did indeed. It’s a wonderful book, perfectly appealing to avid readers of genre and those who prefer straight literary/historical fiction. It also had the effect of forcing me to ratchet up my game for Mouth. I knew if I was going to be published side-by-side with Alan I needed to get real and start taking things seriously. It was extremely intimidating, but in that way that gets me excited about a challenge. (That said, if Cameron had sent me Parliament, I might have just thrown in the towel and given up on writing. Yeah, it’s that good.)

Anyways, blog exchange! As it turned out, I got the easy job. Alan wrote his piece first, and I liked it so much I decided to just riff off his. Which, if you must know, is pretty much how I wrote the largest chunk of A Pretty Mouth. More on that after a brilliant quote from Alan’s post that I found so inspiring:

“… The period a writer chooses for a story will define the characters in it to some extent. Obviously, some experiences we have today are not possible for characters set within a time, say, 100 or 500 years ago. This can present real limitations unless the writer is willing to learn about the period and really open up the character’s world, discover the possibilities, and share that with the reading audience. … No matter the period, the emotional characteristics of human beings are just as subtle and complex as those of human beings today. The everyday realities and events that shape their feelings and motivations can be very different, however. In creating characters, I try to take advantage of the similarities and the differences, setting up parallels and contrasts with what we know today to express something about human experience.”

That’s Alan for you. Saying pretty much everything there is to say on a subject, and more concisely than I, perhaps especially, could ever dream of doing. I mean, read Of Thimble and Threat and tell me there’s more to write on the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper. (I mean, his introduction to the book was shocking in its simplicity, honesty, and wisdom.)

I suppose the above quote struck me in particular, because it’s talking about exactly what I wanted to do with the biggest portion of A Pretty Mouth, which, depending on what you want to call it, is a novel told in parts, or a collection of related short stories. You see, the title novella is a (hopefully) witty Restoration comedy re-envisioned as an 80s teen sex romp.

Huh? What? Yeah, I know. I figured I was going buck-wild with genre in the book anyways, so why not have a “school story” kind of thing? I love school stories, always have. But how do you write something realistic and fresh about school experience when writing about a educational system long gone?

Wadham College, in 1660, was an interesting community of intellectuals, half middle/high school, half university. Boys from 12 years old were required to take courses in Astronomy, Physics, Logic, and Latin; older students attended more college-style classes, as we might think of them. Girls were not allowed. In fact, at that time the only female servant employed by the college was the laundress, who was required by the statutes to be older (and lower-class) as to not distract the students. And she was only allowed to come to the gate of the college, lest her presence inflame the boys’ passions. Kind of hard to stage a panty raid, or whatever, under those circumstances, you know?

And yet, when you read Restoration-era texts—let’s say, for example, the poetry of John Wilmot, the novels/plays of Aphra Behn, or the diary of Samuel Pepys—it’s obvious that some things haven’t changed that much. Worrying over things like popularity, academic performance, uncertainty over one’s future, all those concerns existed then, as they do now. So I hoped to exploit those similarities to make an unusual setting familiar.

Now, my stuff is more anachronistic than Alan’s, deliberately so. Alan’s the kind of writer who shocks you with the horror of reality; I’m the kind of writer who thinks it’s funny when 17th century schoolboys say things like “Busted!” and, I dunno, “motherfucker.” Which let me walk that line between historical drama and 80s comedy.

Maybe. I say that, but you, dear reader, must be the judge of that.


Terrible Twins and Their Easter Eggs

I met Molly Tanzer online after she read and commented on my historical fiction novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Jack the Ripper Victim. This year Molly and I discovered that we were both writing within historical settings, and we agreed to serve as readers for each others’ developing work. Both Molly’s book, A Pretty Mouth, and my novel, A Parliament of Crows, are historical fiction since they are inspired by real events within history. Both books tell dark, disturbing tales, hers an erotic horror, mine a southern gothic. Both were released by Lazy Fascist Press this fall. A Pretty Mouth is sort of a novel in short and long fiction set in England during several different periods, much of it in the 1600s, and A Parliament of Crows is set in various locations within the United States between the time of the American Civil War and the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.

The fun of writing within historical settings is that it’s a bit like time travel. The period a writer chooses for a story will define the characters in it to some extent. Obviously, some experiences we have today are not possible for characters set within a time, say, 100 or 500 years ago. This can present real limitations unless the writer is willing to learn about the period and really open up the character’s world, discover the possibilities, and share that with the reading audience. That’s the time travel I’m talking about. No matter the period, the emotional characteristics of human beings are just as subtle and complex as those of human beings today. The everyday realities and events that shape their feelings and motivations can be very different, however. In creating characters, I try to take advantage of the similarities and the differences, setting up parallels and contrasts with what we know today to express something about human experience. If done right, a reader gets to time-travel too, experiencing a long lost world through the eyes of a character they can understand emotionally, even if the character’s feelings and outlook are shaped by a different time.

A Pretty Mouth was so well realized that it sent me back in time, and allowed me to view a bizarre and terrifying world through the eyes of fascinating, very human characters.

Another thing Molly and I discovered about our writing this year was that both of us were writing about twins. A Pretty Mouth has a supernatural genetic line of evil twins. My novel, A Parliament of Crows, has one set of evil twins whose connection to one another has a supernatural aspect. I thought my twins could use a hint of long, dark genetic history, and suggested to Molly that we might create a connection. Adding more evil twins to her character’s lineage was desirable to her, so she agreed to creating a tiny link between the projects with one or two sentences in each. To get there, we traded messages via facebook “chat,” looking for a solution that was both minimal, but undeniable. I had fun, and I think she did as well. I could almost hear her laughing in her messages. The lines we added had to be of a sort that would not confuse and would not distract a reader from the story at hand, but would be an Easter egg for those who read both books. I’m curious to see who will be the first to notice.

—Alan M. Clark


Drawing for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT Painting in Less than a Week

Less than one week left before the the raffle of a free painting by Alan M. Clark to promote Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, published by Lazy Fascist Press. The image on the left is the painting by Alan M. Clark for the raffle [details below]. The image is inspired by Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, and is currently unpublished. The painting is acrylic on hardboard with dimensions of 12″x18″.

For those of you who missed the initial announcement, here’s how to enter the raffle:

A. Take a picture of yourself with Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim and post it online (on your blog/website, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere). Send a link to the photo to lazyfascist@gmail.com.

OR

B. Correctly answer the following trivia questions (send your answers to lazyfascist@gmail.com):

1. What song did Katie sing in the novel during her cousin’s execution?

2. What was given to infants by the childminder, Patricia Ennis, in order to quiet them?

3. What item in the novel is referred to by the slang expression “nose warmer”?

No purchase necessary. If you have any questions about the raffle, please email lazyfascist@gmail.com. The winner will be announced on June 4th, 2012.

Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim is a story about the intense love between a mother and a child, a story of poverty and loss, fierce independence, and unconquerable will. It is the devastating portrayal of a self-perpetuated descent into Hell, a lucid view into the darkest parts of the human heart.

Alan M. Clark is a World Fantasy Award-winning artist. He has illustrated the works of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Laymon, Brian Lumley, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Keene, William F. Nolan, George Orwell, Poppy Z. Brite, and Christopher Golden.


In 2 weeks the Raffle Alan M. Clark’s OF THIMBLE AND THREAT-inspired Painting

Two weeks left before the the raffle of a free painting by Alan M. Clark to promote Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, published by Lazy Fascist Press. The image on the left is the painting by Alan M. Clark for the raffle [details below]. The image is inspired by Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, and is currently unpublished. The painting is acrylic on hardboard with dimensions of 12″x18″.

For those of you who missed the initial announcement, here’s how to enter the raffle:

A. Take a picture of yourself with Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim and post it online (on your blog/website, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere). Send a link to the photo to lazyfascist@gmail.com.

OR

B. Correctly answer the following trivia questions (send your answers to lazyfascist@gmail.com):

1. What song did Katie sing in the novel during her cousin’s execution?

2. What was given to infants by the childminder, Patricia Ennis, in order to quiet them?

3. What item in the novel is referred to by the slang expression “nose warmer”?

No purchase necessary. If you have any questions about the raffle, please email lazyfascist@gmail.com. The winner will be announced on June 4th, 2012.

Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim is a story about the intense love between a mother and a child, a story of poverty and loss, fierce independence, and unconquerable will. It is the devastating portrayal of a self-perpetuated descent into Hell, a lucid view into the darkest parts of the human heart.

Alan M. Clark is a World Fantasy Award-winning artist. He has illustrated the works of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Laymon, Brian Lumley, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Keene, William F. Nolan, George Orwell, Poppy Z. Brite, and Christopher Golden.


The Life of Catherine Eddowes, Ripper Victim, by Alan M. Clark

My latest book, Of Thimble and Threat (now available from Lazy Fascist at amazon.com), is a novel inspired by the life of Catherine Eddowes, a woman believed to be the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper.

I first became interested in the life of Catherine Eddowes after reading the police report about her murder, particularly the part that listed her articles of clothing and the possessions found on her person at the time of her death.

Here’s the list from the police report:

Clothing
• Black straw bonnet trimmed in green and black velvet with black beads. Black strings, worn tied to the head.
• Black cloth jacket trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur and around the pockets in black silk braid and fur. Large metal buttons.
• Dark green chintz skirt, 3 flounces, brown button on waistband. The skirt is patterned with Michaelmas daisies and golden lilies.
• Man’s white vest, matching buttons down front.
• Brown linsey bodice, black velvet collar with brown buttons down front
• Grey stuff petticoat with white waistband
• Very old green alpaca skirt (worn as undergarment)
• Very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces, light twill lining (worn as undergarment)
• White calico chemise
• No drawers or stays
• Pair of men’s lace up boots, mohair laces. Right boot repaired with red thread
• 1 piece of red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief
• 1 large white pocket handkerchief
• 1 large white cotton handkerchief with red and white bird’s eye border
• 2 unbleached calico pockets, tape strings
• 1 blue stripe bed ticking pocket
• Brown ribbed knee stockings, darned at the feet with white cotton

Possessions
• 2 small blue bags made of bed ticking
• 2 short black clay pipes
• 1 tin box containing tea
• 1 tin box containing sugar
• 1 tin matchbox, empty
• 12 pieces white rag, some slightly bloodstained
• 1 piece coarse linen, white
• 1 piece of blue and white shirting, 3 cornered
• 1 piece red flannel with pins and needles
• 6 pieces soap
• 1 small tooth comb
• 1 white handle table knife
• 1 metal teaspoon
• 1 red leather cigarette case with white metal fittings
• 1 ball hemp
• 1 piece of old white apron with repair
• Several buttons and a thimble
• Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets, One in the name of Emily Birrell, 52 White’s Row, dated August 31, 9d for a man’s flannel shirt. The other is in the name of Jane Kelly of 6 Dorset Street and dated September 28, 2S for a pair of men’s boots. Both addresses are false.
• Printed handbill and according to a press report- a printed card for ‘Frank Carter,305,Bethnal Green Road
• Portion of a pair of spectacles
• 1 red mitten

Catherine Eddowes had spent each of the two nights before the night of her death in a different casual ward. The casual wards were part of the workhouse system, a place for the transient, the ill, or those known to be criminals to receive temporary shelter in what was considered at the time to be appalling conditions. Like many of the homeless today, she was wearing many layers of clothing. She carried over fifty personal items. It is likely she had everything she owned on her person.

With a sense of what her time and circumstances were, I found this pitiful list more compelling than anything I’ve read about Jack the Ripper, and I had the idea of seeing in a work of fiction how all those possessions and clothing came to her. Our possessions say a lot about who we are, and hers spoke to me about a hard-scrabble life and a desperation—not without hope—that made for good storytelling.

The story begins when she is thirteen years old and concludes at her tragic death at the hands of, what they might have called at the time, a fiend. We don’t say fiend much anymore. We don’t call the Green River Killer or BTK a fiend. It just sounds weak in the light of what we know about these killers today. But that was strong language to describe a killer in Victorian London. I use it here to make a point—if I was going to transport readers to that time and give them a reasonable taste of what her life was like, I’d have to get the atmospherics right.

I would not be inventing her life out of whole cloth (an old expression that fits the theme of the story well) since there was much information about Catherine Eddowes, but to build the world in which she lived, Victorian England, I would have to commit to extensive research. The thought of it was so daunting, it took me over 15 years and finally a request by Cameron Pierce to write a novel for Lazy Fascist Press before I would seriously consider it.

Here are some interesting things I discovered about Catherine Eddowes:

• Her first common-law husband, a man named Conway, wrote gallows ballads and was a chapman. Catherine worked at this business with him and most likely contributed to the writing of the ballads. They made a living attending public executions where they sold their chapbooks for a penny apiece. These were composed of several broad sheets folded together that included a ballad and other written material about the life, the crime and trial of the criminal being executed. They did this at the execution of Catherine’s cousin, a murderer named Robinson.

• She went to the infirmary at the Work House to give birth to her children.

• While living with a man named Kelly, one of Catherine’s aliases was Mary Ann Kelly, an alias also used by the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Jane Kelly.

• Two days before her murder, Catherine told friends she knew the murderer and would turn him in for the reward.

• The night of her murder, Catherine was arrested for public drunkenness and held in a cell where she slept for several hours. When she awoke, she said she could take care of herself and begged to be released. The police would not let her go without knowing her name. She gave it as Mary Ann Kelly. Within an hour of her release, she was found dead.

Here are some interesting slang expressions from Victorian London that I used in the novel:
• Cuttie or Nose Warmer—short pipe, mostly smoked by women.
• Billy—silk handkerchief.
• Bludger—violent criminal.
• Dollymop—amateur prostitute.
• Fakement—pretense for begging.
• Flag—an apron.
• Glock—half-wit.
• Gulpy—gullible, easily duped.
• Haybag—woman.
• Lump Hotel—Work House
• Lumper—dock worker.
• Lushington—a drunkard.
• Mumper—beggar
• Muck Snipe—someone “down and out”
• Patterer—someone who has hawks using a recited sales pitch.
• Prater—conman preacher.
• Rookery—slum.
• Square rigged—soberly dressed.

Here are some interesting things I discovered about Victorian London and British culture:
• London Particular—A mix of pollution and fog, sometimes called pea soup fog for its yellow color, resulting from the extensive use of coal during the industrial revolution in England. The British government in recent years has admitted that the killer fog was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens.
• The Great Stink—A time in London, during the summer of 1858, when the amount of waste entering the Thames and hot weather combined to create a miasma so potent it nearly shut down the government and brought the city to a halt. Those who could afford to do so evacuated the city.
Phosphorism—A disease that was common among matchmaker (those who labored in match factories). Handling the chemicals used in the production of matches inflicted upon the laborer damage to the teeth and jaw, often resulting in the loss of some or all of the teeth and occasionally requiring the removal of the jaw bone.
• Godfrey’s Cordial—An opium and alcohol elixir used to keep toddles and infants quiet.
• Various Scavengers—Mudlarks (children who scavenge the river Thames, looking for anything of value), Toshers (those who scavenge in the sewers, often children), Bone Grubbers (those who collect bones to sell, either asking for them door to door or scavenging for them along the river).
• Night Soil Men—Those who muck out cesspits, the receptacles of human bodily waste in the basements of tenements and private homes.
• Pig Wash—Primarily the leftovers of a middle class to wealthy household, food that has been to the table too many times and has gone bad or is close to it. The rejected food is given to those in service to the household who have requested and been granted Pig Wash.
• Broxy—the meat of diseased sheep—a cheap source of meat for the poor.
• All Sorts—a drink composed of all the drinks abandoned on tables at a pub, gathered up by the barman or barmaids, and mixed together—a cheap source of alcohol for the poor.

In writing Of Thimble and Threat, my effort was not to create a character we would relate to as one from our time, but one whose words and actions were shaped by her environment and circumstances and whose driving emotions were seen as reasonable within that context. Victorian England, with it’s social structure, polluted environment, the quality of sustenance for its people, labor conditions, the state of scientific and medical knowledge in that period, the prevalence and pervasiveness of disease and the seeming ease with which people became ill and slipped quickly into death, was a very different world from the one in which I live. All these elements combined to create quite different priorities and concerns for the people of that time and place from what most of us experience today. The average person was most likely much more aware of mortality day to day since something as simple as a cut on the finger could easily become infected and lead to death. Choosing an occupation—if one were lucky enough to have a choice—was to choose between compromising one or another aspects of one’s health.

That’s not to say we don’t have these concerns today, but time and experience has led to systems which mitigate much of the extremes seen in Victorian London. Human beings haven’t truly changed—we experience the same emotions we always have. The stimulus for those emotions is what changes from environment to environment, generation to generation. We would certainly relate to those of another time, but having a conversation with someone from the 1800s would be an interesting and singular experience for someone today.

The possessions of Catherine Eddowes started that conversation with me, providing a glimpse of her priorities and concerns, and Of Thimble and Threat is my response.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 837 other followers