What Stace had to say on Thursday, January 21st, 2016
Florence King has died.
I am heartbroken.
I was nineteen or twenty when I picked up a copy of CONFESSIONS OF A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY. And I fell in love with it. I recommended it to practically everyone I met; I read and re-read it dozens of times. How could you not fall in love with an author who says, “No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street,” as proof that she is still the lady her grandmother wanted her to be? How can you not fall in love with an author who makes you laugh so hard, for so long, and keeps doing it on almost every page? You can’t, or at least I couldn’t, and I was desperate for more.
I was lucky there. Plenty more existed. Over the years I’ve read (almost) all of it, and loved all of it, to the point that for a while I actually subscribed to the National Review just to get her column, “The Misanthrope’s Corner.”
It wasn’t just the humor, or the wit, or the incredibly sharp eye she turned on everything, that made me love her work so much, or keep reading even when I disagreed with her. Florence King’s writing jumped off the page; everything she wrote was elegant, concise, with an edge that could cut glass. This is the woman who, in a review of some turgid literary novel, referred to a long, dull analytical conversation between strangers passing in the night as a “zipless Weltschmerz.” This is the woman who cancels an eye appointment with an optometrist whose receptionist doesn’t know how to spell “King” because, as she says: “If his receptionist couldn’t spell King, what was the optician who hired her like? I wouldn’t trust these baby bloodshots to just anybody, to paraphrase Lynda Carter, so instead of rescheduling the appointment I canceled it.” The woman who referred to a religious gathering as “the Promise Keepers Washington writhe-in.” This is the woman who once wrote a reviewer a letter chastising his positive review of her book because the review was poorly written (Miss King [she was never “Ms.”] reviewed numerous books professionally herself, and all of those reviews were delightful to read).
It’s that last one that speaks the most to what she meant to me, though. Florence King was the first writer I ever read who talked about writing. Who analyzed other writers she admired (an essay on Edna Buchanan was one of my favorites) and what was so admirable about them. She talked about punctuation–I can’t recall her exact words about comma usage here, but she said something about how she liked to use as few as possible so the sentence would just slide down the reader’s throat in one smooth gulp; it’s an analogy I think of constantly while working. She talked about word choice (“Fear of getting mad is so widespread that nobody says mad any more. The word is angry: somehow it sounds less mad than mad,” isn’t the best example, but it’s one I can link to)
and language in general. She talked about passivity in language and weasel-words and phrasing which obfuscates the point. She talked about paring sentences down, getting to the meat, and eliminating all of the side dishes. She talked about words in harmony with each other and the importance of an “ear.” She wrote a long article about GONE WITH THE WIND, wherein–among other things–she discussed some of the literary rules broken by Ms. Mitchell, and how it didn’t matter; it was from her I learned that any character in a story must have a purpose for being there, and that characters without purpose shouldn’t be created (Mitchell broke this rule, specifically in one very subtle way: the strong implication that Rhett Butler had a son with Belle Watling. The child is brought up two or three times, without ever being called Rhett’s son despite the obvious truth that he is, but the potential plot issues which could be caused by such a character are never addressed. Perhaps it’s because only the reader sees all of the comments about him, which means that one character [Melanie] only knows that Belle has a son who lives elsewhere, and another [Scarlett] only knows that Rhett has a young male ward in New Orleans; this put the reader in the fun position of knowing personal secrets that the characters do not, but still doesn’t make any difference to the story itself.)
None of these were part of a specific writing lesson. They were just observations she made while skewering culture or people (or complaining about fact-checkers and copyeditors, which she did hilariously more than once), but they made me think, really think, about how things are written or said. They made me think about how to express what I meant in the best, clearest way. They made me think about how to think, how to draw connections between one thing and another, and point them out. They led not only by explanation but by example.
It wasn’t just writing, though. Miss King had a love of, and a knack with, historical anecdotes and stories. If you do not follow any other links in this post, follow this one, an absolutely fascinating analysis of the Lizzie Borden case (who else could refer to the Borden case as a “zany tragedy?”). It was from Miss King that I learned the gruesome details of Edward II’s death (they shoved a red-hot poker up his ass) and the best story about the importance of punctuation ever told: Edward was imprisoned, and his queen and her lover wanted him dead. Of course, they needed to communicate said desire in writing, but could not actually order it in writing, since regicide is a pretty serious crime. Their compromise was genius. They sent a letter which read, exactly like this, “Kill Edward not to fear is good.”
Place the comma after “Edward,” and see what you have. Now remove it, and put it after “not.” Isabella and her dastardly lover knew what they were doing. That’s plausible deniability if ever I saw it, and it’s the kind of story that makes those of us who love words and language shake our heads in admiration.
The National Review has archived some of her columns–that’s where the links in this post came from, as otherwise it’s hard to find her work online–but that archive isn’t really representative of her entire body of work (which is not really political), IMO, and although the columns contain her trademark wit and style, none of them are her best work, either. That came in her books, from CONFESSIONS to THE FLORENCE KING READER and beyond–the latter contains a chapter from the bodice-ripper she wrote in the 70s (when the term “bodice-ripper” actually fit) under the pen name Laura Buchanan; her description of writing it while drinking glass after glass of bourbon, culminating in her passing out in a closet, is hilarious. If anyone is looking for a place to start as far as reading King, I’d say either of those two titles is the place to go.
And I urge you to do so. I can honestly say that Florence King is part of the reason I became a writer. She made me realize it was possible. She taught me what to do and what to look for. I didn’t always agree with her, but I always loved reading her take on things. She was an inspiration to me, and I cried when I learned that she had died.
RIP, Miss King, and thank you.
***A few other tidbits:
YES, Downside 6 is happening, and I am working on it. Carpal tunnel has been limiting my work-time/word-count a bit, but I’m doing better.
I caught some horrible plague-sickness at Christmas and it took me a couple of weeks to get better. The Brits refer to this sort of cold as a “lurgy,” (with a hard G) and that describes it pretty well.
For Christmas, I bought myself an InStyler–supercheap on Ebay. I like it. It works pretty well. It takes a bit of time to do my hair, but the results are good, and it’s much easier than rolling my damp hair in Velcro curlers and sitting around in them for hours, which is what I’ve been doing.
The Hubs and I are still obsessed with the game Far Cry 3, which he’s been playing on the Playstation 3 since we bought the thing back in the summer(?) According to the game, 115 hours have been spent playing it. Mostly he plays and I watch; we allow ourselves like an hour of this several times a week (I’m not watching him play when I’m supposed to be working, I promise!). If you’re not familiar with video games or don’t know which one to try or whatever, I highly, highly recommend it. (Far Cry 4, which he has also played all the way through, is good, too, but I prefer 3; the scenery is prettier. I was Very Excited when I saw they were using the Himalayas as a setting for 4, but there’s actually very little time spent in the mountains, which was/is disappointing.)
I think that’s about it.
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
Random House has put UNHOLY GHOSTS (ebook format) on sale for 99 cents! The sale ends on Friday, so snap up your copy now, wherever it is that you buy your ebooks.
I am hard, hard at work here, putting the finishing touches on MADE FOR SIN (which I really hope you guys are going to like), editing another new project, and of course working on Downside 6 and the next Terrible-POV book, all of which I’m hoping to be able to give you guys some news on soon.
Everything else (meaning, things that aren’t writing) is kind of falling by the wayside, sigh, but the hubs and I have been really enjoying watching Fargo (we finally sat down to Season One and loved it, and are enjoying S2 almost as much so far) and a couple of other shows–I’ve kind of cooled on The Walking Dead so far this season, but that will change when Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up, obviously.
Meanwhile, sigh. A friend of ours had a relative who had a pregnant cocker spaniel, and we were really thinking of getting a puppy for the girls for Christmas. Unfortunately, they want waaaaay more money for one than we can afford to spend or are interested in spending (in US dollars it’d be about $800), so we’re a bit disappointed there. When did puppies become so expensive? I remember when you used to see ads for free-to-a-good-home in the paper all the time, but not anymore, at least not here. I know that’s a good thing, of course, because it means spay/neuter rates are up, it’s just odd how much things have changed.
I’ve never really gotten a puppy before–our last dog came from the pound, and that’s usually my first port of call, so to speak. But listen, guys. My girls have never had a pet (aside from their beta fish, Gary, a few years ago, who sadly only lived a few months). They’re both a little scared of dogs (they love them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not entirely comfortable around them at the moment), so we’d like to get them a baby that they won’t be frightened of or nervous about, that they can be comfortable with and then, of course, keep being comfortable with as it grows. Puppies seem to be incredibly rare at local shelters etc.; we’ve never seen one available, and we’ve been checking their websites on and off for a few years. So we’re thinking we may have to put the puppy plan on hold for a bit, sadly. Of course, since we’d planned this as quite the showstopper gift…again, sigh. Not the end of the world, but still disappointing.
Also disappointing is the fact that this is all the time I have; back to work with me!
What Stace had to say on Thursday, October 1st, 2015
I’m going to assume that most (if not all) of you are aware of Penguin Random House’s digital publishing program/imprints, which were introduced a few years ago now?
Well (again). A few months ago, my editor there asked if I might be interested in writing one, and I thought it sounded like fun. A few more conversations and some paperwork ensued, and now I have a new book coming out! Which I really hope you’ll like. It’s called MADE FOR SIN, and rather than going on and on about it, I’m just going to give you the “About” from the Penguin Random House website:
Karen Marie Moning raves that Stacia Kane “delivers dark, sexy urban fantasy at its finest.” Now Kane introduces her most addictive antihero yet: a Las Vegas PI who makes his own luck—and embodies everything that’s oh-so-right with Sin City.
A lot of bad hands get dealt in Vegas, but E. L. Speare may be holding one of the worst: He’s cursed with the need to commit sins, and if he misses his daily quota, there’s hell to pay—literally. Fortunately, his hometown affords him plenty of chances to behave badly.
But Speare’s newest case really has him going out on a limb. The right-hand man of a notorious crime boss has been found dead in a Dumpster—minus his right hand, not to mention the rest of his arm. What catches Speare’s attention, however, is that the missing appendage was severed clean by a demon-sword, a frighteningly powerful tool of the underworld.
Speare’s out of his element, so he turns to a specialist: Ardeth Coyle, master thief, dealer in occult artifacts, and bona fide temptress. Ardeth’s hotter than a Las Vegas sidewalk on the Fourth of July, but she’s one sin Speare has to resist.
The dismembered corpses are piling up, unimaginable evil lurks in the shadows, and if this odd couple hopes to beat the odds, Speare needs to keep his hands off Ardeth, and his head in the game.
They’ve scheduled the release for February of next year, and hopefully soon I’ll have cover art to show you–and I’ll post an excerpt then, too.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with this one, so I hope it will be as much fun for you guys!
What Stace had to say on Monday, September 21st, 2015
When I was in eighth grade, I went on a class trip to Washington, D.C. (which was amazing, btw; I love D.C.). We did all the things people do there: we hung around outside the White House (we didn’t go in, I don’t remember why), we saw the U.S. Mint, we visited the FBI building and saw the 10 Most Wanted list, we wandered around the Smithsonian and saw the Hope diamond, and we went to see the giant pandas at the National Zoo–that was Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, not the current pair. (Also, click here if you want to see something adorable and wonderful and amazing. It will open in a new tab, which you can then keep open all day to check on periodically and feel whatever stress you’re dealing with evaporate. You’re welcome.)
Anyway. When we made our National Zoo visit, the panda exhibit/habitat was being renovated or something–my memory is fuzzy as to what actually was going on, maybe they’d just had a baby?–so the pandas were in a big glass box. And they weren’t doing much. I got bored fairly quickly, and decided to go back to the bus (we were all in a big tour bus) and hang out in there.
Sitting across from me was a girl from my school I didn’t know very well, named Vanessa. She was reading, with the sort of intense focus one only sees when someone is reading a book that has utterly captivated them, a thick paperback. Its cover was black, and across it stretched an image of a gold necklace with a ruby heart in the center. Above and below the necklace were the author and title:
This is the cover I saw.
Jackie Collins, and LUCKY.
I’d heard of Jackie Collins before, but had never really seen one of her books. I’d never read one; in fact, I’d never heard of anyone my age reading one. At that time, although I was (of course) an avid and voracious reader who read YA and adult fiction, I’d never ventured into the world of adult potboiler/bestsellers. So I asked Vanessa about it, and she told me how good it was and even let me borrow it while she went to look at the pandas herself.
I started reading. And I couldn’t–didn’t want to–stop.
For the rest of the trip, Vanessa and I would race to see who could get back to the bus first to read LUCKY, and the first thing I did when we got home was insist my mom take me to the bookstore so I could buy my own copy. I’d never read anything like it in my life: beautiful rich people having copious sex, saying “fuck” every other word, being criminals, killing people, using sex as currency or as a weapon, flying in private jets, cheating on each other, betraying each other, backstabbing each other, spending millions of dollars on jewelry and cocaine, taking cruises on private yachts with their husband’s mistress and then fucking some guy who turned out to be the husband of their stepdaughter and former teenage best friend while at port. Teenage girls ran away to the South of France, where they got drunk and gave blow jobs to sleazy wannabe film directors. Other teenage girls got scammed by bad actors and kidnapped by sleazy mobsters. Actual gay and lesbian sex was described. Everybody murdered everybody else while building hotels and there was family drama and daddy issues and gay porn and strippers and dead lovers and riots and crime everywhere. I was thirteen, you guys. This was the most incredible book I had ever read in my life.
Vanessa and I became friends, and she told me all about the first Santangelo book, CHANCES, which I of course immediately grabbed a copy of. I remember my mom taking me to the library to check out more Jackie Collins novels, and her having to give her permission to the librarian so I could do so (would that still happen today?). HOLLYWOOD WIVES, HOLLYWOOD HUSBANDS, THE STUD, THE BITCH, THE WORLD IS FULL OF MARRIED MEN, LOVERS AND GAMBLERS…whatever I could get my hands on, I read, though none of them captured me the way the Santangelo books did.
Now, I fully understand the…shall we say, limitations…of Jackie Collins’s books, literary-speaking (I know that’s wrong, but it sounds funny). I just don’t give a damn, because my goodness, they’re fun as hell, aren’t they? Ridiculous and silly and over-the-top, crazy, dirty, trashy fun. I still love them. I will always love them (and I’m still planning a project that will hopefully have all of the same trashy, over-the-top fun). The novels of Jackie Collins helped show me what was possible in a book, just as much as the novels of Stephen King or Richard Matheson or Edgar Allan Poe, or Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters (whose books I devoured at age twelve and still adore), or Herman Wouk, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Charles Dickens, or Orwell or Tolkein or Harper Lee or any number of other writers with incredible stories did. I never realized you could write books like Jackie Collins wrote; I’d never been exposed to anything like them before. I’d certainly never realized that they were something girls my age could read–while I’d read plenty of books written for adults, her books seemed like books for ADULTS, if you know what I mean, far beyond the comprehension or enjoyment of someone my age. (A few years before that, I’d found a book in one of the cabinets in our basement called THE CHOIRBOYS, by Joseph Wambaugh [some of you are probably chuckling right about now]. The cover copy described it as “shocking,” so I thought I’d give it a read. I think I gave up after three or four pages, having become simultaneously bored, confused, and terrified–I vividly remember something about a dead person with dog poo in his or her mouth, and deciding that was not the kind of “shocking” or “adult” I’d been looking for and furthermore who would want to read that?) (Apparently it is a very good book; I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it or reading it, of course, just that at twelve or thirteen it seemed horrifying.)
I’m starting to ramble and digress, so I’ll get to the point of all this.
Jackie Collins died on Saturday. I’m sad about it, although I admit I haven’t read one of her books in some time–actually, the last one I read was LADY BOSS, when it came out in paperback, so yeah, it’s been a while. That doesn’t change the fact that they were a huge influence on me, and that I will be forever grateful that I met Vanessa on that long-ago trip and she introduced the barely-a-teenager me to this incredible, sparkling adult world, where sex and wealth dripped off the pages to infect me with possibilities. Her books were about giants; larger-than-life, slightly insane, sometimes unlikable, oversexed, wealthy giants who made up for what they lacked in gravity and humanity by being flashy and tough. I remember trying a few other potboiler-y books, looking for something that would give me that “Jackie” rush, and being sadly unable to find any. (I think my favorite out of those others was Sidney Sheldon’s MASTER OF THE GAME, although there wasn’t enough crazy sex in it for me. Harold Robbins left me cold, though I imagine I might enjoy his books more now. Danielle Steele was too tragic and sentimental for me, though she enjoyed quite a period of vogue among the girls at my school during our freshman and sophomore years. I never could get into Judith Krantz or Rosamunde Pilcher.) No one could compare to Lucky Santangelo and the collection of mobsters, prostitutes, models, politicians, businessmen, actors, and idiots who peopled her world.
So thank you, Jackie Collins. Thank you for blowing my thirteen-year-old mind, and thank you for showing me that you could do anything, go anywhere, in a book. That there were no limits. You will be missed.
What Stace had to say on Friday, September 4th, 2015
A while ago I was wandering around the IMDb page for “The Departed.” I imagine it won’t be much of a surprise to many of you for me to say that I fucking love The Departed, but just in case: I fucking love The Departed.
Anyway. As is my wont, I had a look through the discussion threads for the movie; there is often fun to be had there, even if it’s of the “Really?” sort. (Example of fun: A thread on the Unforgiven page suggests that maybe William Munney moved to San Francisco, where, in order to put his criminal past behind him forever, he changed his name to Callahan. Seventy-some years later, his great-great-grandson Harry becomes a cop. Silly, maybe, but I thought it was fun.) The discussion I saw is either no longer there–since IMCb has started ruthlessly deleting discussions after a short period of time, which is very annoying–but it was basically somebody sniffing snootily (say that three times fast) about how The Departed sucks, because they had to add some dumb happy ending to it and Americans always have to ruin movies with their stupid endings that imply the world isn’t a miserable shithole. Dumbasses!
(I note that in the current discussions there’s a discussion which will be the subject of another post in future.)
Many of us are probably familiar with these wet-blanket sneerers at happy endings, since anyone who’s spent any time in the “book world” has seen them. I bet you have. You know, the ones who insult women’s fiction as a category and the genres within it as “stupid trash” because the endings are usually happy and that’s just dumb because what idiot wants to read a book where the characters are happy in the end? Really, what sort of moron enjoys it when things work out for other people? Don’t the readers of those genres, or of any books where the ending is anything less than an apocalypse of misery and death, know that in the real world things don’t always end happily? How stupid do you have to be, to enjoy reading something uplifting when you could be spending a nice afternoon being reminded of the world’s inhumanity and that that no matter what you do, you’re likely to end up screwed (in a bad way)? Dumbasses. People who like books with happy endings or movies with happy endings are clearly barely above a dog in terms of intellectual capacity, and also are cowards who bury their heads in the sand.
Can you tell from the above just how much these misery-gut thought police annoy me?
I don’t think there’s much purpose behind pointing out that, as bad as things might be, in the real world things often do work out for people. If in the real world people never got married and spent their lives together, then maybe we could agree that books in which the protagonists do exactly that are “unrealistic.” But they do. It happens every day. I’ve been married for over fifteen years, and while we’ve had a few less-then-perfect periods–as most couples do–we are still quite happy together. I’m aware of more than a few others, who’ve been married far longer, and are still pretty happy to spend time together.
But it’s not just romances/stories with strong romantic elements, I hasten to point out. Again, this all started (partly) with a discussion of The Departed, where the term “happy ending” fits loosely at best. The complaint there seems to be that revenge was gotten, or at least vengeance was served. Thinking people know that just because vengeance was served doesn’t mean anyone is happy; the dead certainly do not come back to life. To say that’s a “happy” ending makes me wonder just how much you hate people, and if you will ever consider your personal revenge on humanity complete.
But honestly, the point is not how mean people who sneer about happy endings are and how they probably kick puppies in their off hours. (No, really, it’s not.) And–honestly, again–I don’t insist on them in everything myself, and have been known to enjoy plenty of books and/or movies where the ending is ambiguous or downright unhappy. I’ve even hated a few happy endings which I felt were tacked on or unearned or just plain shitty–I’m looking at you, Natural Born Killers.
But in general. I don’t think turning up your nose at a story with a happy ending (and anyone who enjoys it) while drawling about how much better it is when stories are realistic, like real life, man, not inane and sappy (as if real life is not inane and sappy sometimes), and how stupid it is for people to like happy endings and how American movies should be more like European movies because they’re real and nobody is ever happy in them and nothing ever works out in the end. Which, wow, sounds fun, but also, can we please get over the idea that it is somehow intellectually superior to wish ill on others, and that it is some kind of virtue to expect everything to be shitty and horrible and that doing so makes you a person of fine and elevated tastes far beyond the average in some fashion?
It’s not. I promise. And you’re not either, Joe Misery. There’s nothing virtuous or clever or special about thinking it sucks when other people find happiness, and that’s what you’re doing when you get all grumpyass about happy endings: You’re saying that it’s wrong–it’s dumb or it’s naive–to take pleasure in the joy of others (because in its essence, taking pleasure in a the happy ending of a story is really taking pleasure in the joy of others, isn’t it? Being glad that things worked out for them, that they overcame their obstacles and found happiness at the end? We don’t smile and sigh because the protagonists ended up miserable and alone and it’s made us feel better about our own shitty lives of existential horror–at least, we don’t if we’re decent people and the characters are, too [I make no apologies for being glad when hideous evil characters get what’s coming to them]. It’s nice to be pleased when other people are happy. It’s virtuous and good. It’s kind. It indicates that you have positive human emotions instead of being riddled with envy and hate and rage.
And I have to admit, it’s that last part that always crosses my mind when I come across some “Why do you people want a happy ending, you simps,” person. Why don’t you want one, man? What is it about things working out okay for other people that you find so offensive? Why do you want people to be unhappy? Is schadenfreude so noble that you want to pat yourself on the back for it, really? Do you think you’re actually imparting some earth-shaking wisdom by reminding people that things aren’t always great for everyone all the time? Or are you really just stomping on the only joy someone might have, in the middle of a shitty patch–the only joy to be had by someone whose life could very well be a hell of a lot worse than yours, by the way, Mr. or Ms. Emotional Bully?
Of course the world can be a cold and miserable place. We all know that already, and don’t need you to tell us. That’s why we need happy endings. And happy endings aren’t just about fooling us into thinking things could work out for us, too, or whatever. They’re about reminding us that they sometimes do, and that even when things look awful and we’re at our lowest, there could still be something good around the corner. It’s like playing the lottery, but everybody wins. That’s a good thing. And it doesn’t deserve anyone’s contempt.
(Note: Yes, my tongue is slightly in my cheek as I write this, and I’m not referring to people who disagree with a particular ending to a particular story or even people who simply prefer ambiguous endings. I’m talking specifically about people who feel the need to insult others who do like happy endings, and who act as though there’s something especially clever or cool about not liking them; that’s what I take issue with. Also, about halfway through this post I began feeling like I was writing some sort of obscure porn about massage parlors; the double entendres are just everywhere, aren’t they? But it couldn’t be helped.)
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
Around 7 pm on the evening of November 30, 1948, a man and his wife took a walk along Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia, and noticed a man slumped against the seawall about sixty feet away. As they watched, he lifted his right arm–rather weakly–and let it fall to his side again. The two didn’t think much of this, and kept walking.
About half an hour later, another couple noticed the man. This time he didn’t move; in fact, insects were visibly flying around him. The couple figured he was just drunk, and moved on.
The next morning–around six-thirty–a group of people on horseback noticed the man, still in the same position. This time, someone called the police (actually, the person who called was John Lyons, the man who’d seen that weak wave at seven the night before; he’d gone back to the beach early, saw the crowd on horseback, and realized they were looking at the same man, in the same position).
The man was dead. He has never been identified. Nor has a cause of death ever been positively established–the autopsy assumed some sort of poison was probable, but no toxicology tests found any poison (and of course, many poisons were not able to be identified in 1948).
He carried no wallet, and the labels in his clothing had been removed. His fingerprints were taken, but no matches were found. Police distributed pictures of him to all the major newspapers and contacted relatives of all the missing persons they knew of in hopes of identifying him, but no one came forward.
None of his other physical characteristics helped, either. He had a few small scars, mostly on his inner left wrist and inner left elbow. He had attached earlobes, a very rare physical trait (incidentally, Hugh Dancy from Hannibal has this same trait, and I had to force myself to stop looking at it during the first few episodes because that, combined with the way they’d styled his hair, made him look really Hobbit-y to me. I digress, and spoil the mysterious mood). This earlobe attachment is a trait found in only one or two percent of the population, just like the way the upper cavity of his ears was larger than the lower one. His feet were uncalloused and his toes had grown close together in a way that made his feet seem almost pointy; combined with his high, tight calf muscles, this led some to believe he was a dancer.
The items in his pockets yielded nothing that led to an identification, either. At the time of his death he was carrying an unused train ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket from Adelaide to Glenelg, a half-full pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a quarter-full box of Bryant & May matches, one or two combs (I’ve seen it listed as both one and two), and an Army Club cigarette pack which held seven cigarettes of another, more expensive brand called Kensitas. When he was found, a half-smoked cigarette sat on his right shoulder, possibly dropped when he made that last wave at pedestrians on the beach.
About six weeks after he was discovered, a suitcase was discovered in a train station locker. Circumstances indicated strongly that the suitcase belonged to the Somerton Man (it had been deposited at the train station at 11 am on November 30 and never claimed, among other things) and authorities were very hopeful, but this too yielded nothing of real use; a few items in the suitcase were labeled either “T. Keane” or “Kean,” but no missing persons named “Kean/e” were reported, and it’s believed that Somerton Man, knowing his own name was not Kean/e, thus didn’t bother to remove labels that couldn’t be traced back to him.
The contents of the suitcase were perplexing in other ways, too. Some items were American, others Australian. He had airmail cards, which indicated he’d been sending–or planned to send–mail overseas. He carried stenciling equipment, but his clean, well-manicured hands indicated he didn’t do that kind of work for a living. He had a soapdish with a hairpin in it. He had a small screwdriver, and a cut-down table knife.
None of that helped identify him.
Then, in April 1949, an expert was brought in to re-examine the body. The expert, John Cleland from Adelaide University, found a previously-unnoticed small pocket in the man’s trousers, which contained a tiny, tightly rolled piece of paper. On that paper was printed, in elaborate script the words, TAMAM SHUD. Cleland immediately recognized this phrase from THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM; translated, the phrase means “Finished,” or “The End.”
However, no one could find an edition of the RUBAIYAT which contained those words in that script. Remember, this was at a time where copyright laws were not as well-enforced, and it wasn’t unusual for a publisher to simply put out its own edition of a work without permission, or for people to have their own copies bound, or any combination thereof. The edition which contained those words in that script was not found…
…until July of 1949, when a man from Glenelg came forward with a copy of the RUBAIYAT and an interesting tale. He’d found the book, he said, tossed into his car at Somerton Beach the year before. Someone had torn the words “TAMAM SHUD” out of that copy, and the tear exactly matched the paper in the Somerton Man’s pocket.
The book yielded a couple more clues, too: two phone numbers on the back cover, and indentations that, when examined under ultraviolet light and traced, appeared to make up some kind of code:
…which really didn’t help them at all. Neither did discovering that although the book’s copyright page claimed it had been published by a New Zealand company called Whitcombe & Tombs, Whitcombe & Tombs claimed they’d never published an edition that matched the one that had belonged to Somerton Man.
They tried calling the phone numbers, one of which belonged to a woman called “Jestyn,” who had worked or was about to work as a nurse. Jestyn–who died in 2007, and whose real name is now known to have been Jessica Harkness Thomson–said she had once given a copy of the RUBAIYAT to a man named Alf Boxall, but not that copy. That was proven when Mr. Boxall was found alive and well, and still in possession of his intect copy signed by Jestyn.
jestyn claimed not to know anything about Somerton Man, but it’s widely believed that she did know who he was; her reaction on seeing the bust taken of his face was apparently rather obvious. And her eldest son (also now deceased) had the same unusually shaped ears as Somerton Man. But just because a genetic trait is rare doesn’t mean people are automatically related, and just because a man had a woman’s phone number doesn’t mean she knows him, etc. etc. All Jestyn could tell the investigators is that around the time Somerton Man was found, her neighbors had told her some man showed up looking for her at her house, but she didn’t see him and didn’t know who he was. (Jestyn, by the way, lived only blocks from where Somerton Man was found.)
No one has ever cracked the code written in the book.
Somerton Man was finally buried in June 1949, unidentified.
You guys, this KILLS ME. Who was he?!? How did he die? Was he a spy, as some people theorize? What was his relationship with Jestyn? Why did she look like she totally knew who he was but deny it? What was he doing there? Was he there, as some theorize, to see her, and the boy who might have been his son? Did he commit suicide, and TAMAM SHUD was all he needed as a note–but why was it hidden, then?
I’m going to talk more about unsolved mysteries and such later–this is getting long–but here’s the reason I’m specifically bringing up this case.
Professor Derek Abbot, who did this fascinating AMA about the Somerton Man and is considered the world’s authority on the case, and who runs these very informative Wiki pages, has started a petition to get the Adelaide authorities to exhume Somerton Man for DNA testing.
Please sign it. There are apparently some poor people in this world *coughtotallynotmecough* who literally stay awake at night wondering about this case (and others like it) and wishing like hell that there was some sort of closure because we seriously want to tear out our hair from curiosity.
And we’ll talk more about mysteries and the lure of them and the unbearable frustration of the unsolved later.
ETA: Just to be clear, the above is by no means an exhaustive list of the facts and curiosities in the Somerton Man case (also sometimes referred to as the “Tamam Shud” or “Taman Shud” case). There’s tons more curious and interesting info to be found if you follow the links or Google it or whatever.
What Stace had to say on Friday, July 31st, 2015
Okay, there will be a new post on Monday, because I’ve had a cold (I’m finally better now) and this week got sooo far away from me.
But I’m still here, I just don’t have a finished post and it seems silly to post it late on Friday night.
So, see you Monday, for some ranty goodness and such.
(I’ve just spent like an hour trying to find an adorable image or funny gif or something to put here, but couldn’t find a good one. So no funny image for you. Sorry.)
What Stace had to say on Saturday, July 18th, 2015
Some of you may recall several years ago that I concocted a key lime pie cake for Mr. K.’s birthday, and it turned out very nicely. It’s actually become something of a tradition–if three years is enough time to call something that–that Hubs gets something key-lime-y for his birthday (last year I made a key lime pie ice cream, which was okay, but I put too much lemon in it so don’t consider it a major success).
Anyway. Thursday’s key lime pie cake (Mark II) was a roaring success: white cake with layers of key lime, whipped cream and crumb-crust.
Read the rest of this entry »
What Stace had to say on Monday, July 13th, 2015
The hubs’s work sometimes involves working with various charities, and last night we all headed down to Castle Drogo for the “Jazz at Drogo” event to support Cancer Research UK. It was a lovely event despite the weather (the music wasn’t my thing, but oh well) and the girls had lots of fun wandering around the gardens, which really are gorgeous, and getting a peek inside the castle during a reception at the beginning.
It turns out that the castle was named for its original owner, Julius Drewe, and the town it’s near/on the edge of, which is called Drewsteignton. It further turns out that Drewsteignton is named after its founder, a Norman baron named Drogo de Teigne, also known as Drewe de Teigne. So apparently “Drogo” means Drewe. Which immediately put me in mind of…
Hello. I’m King Drew.
My friends call me Andy.
…which I know is kind of silly, but it made me giggle a bit anyway. (And really, any excuse to post pictures of this man is a good excuse, isn’t it?)
We enjoyed this latest season of Game of Thrones, though yeah, it wasn’t the best season there’s ever been. I’m kind of amused by all of the “new” theories popping up about Jon Snow, though, which aren’t new at all. I mean, I’ve (still, to my shame) never read the books and I figured this one out some time ago; that’s not meant as an insult to anyone who didn’t, but it’s ingenuous of a few TV reviewers to behave as if this is something they just invented.
For me (and for a lot of others, I think), reading the reviews and recaps is kind of an essential part of the whole viewing experience, which is amazing since ten or fifteen years ago we didn’t have anything like that. Now it’s a whole cottage industry, isn’t it, with written reviews and whole YouTube channels dedicated to discussions of TV shows. I’ve watched a few of those–I often watch movies or TV or listen to podcasts or whatever (look, I am SO modern and hip!) while washing dishes or cooking or puttering in the kitchen, as is my wont.
Anyway. I have an odd little theory of my own, which is probably utter crap. But here goes.
So this is the Night’s King:
Hiya. My name is not Drew.
There’s a whole little backstory to the Night’s King in the books, wherein (I’ll spare you from clicking, but this article on Vulture is interesting) he was the 13th Commander of the Night’s Watch (Jon is the 998th, so that’s a lot of years in between) and fell in love with a creepy white-skinned women and blah blah blah love turned him Eeevil and such. And his name isn’t recorded anywhere, and there are a few suspects, but some people think he was a Stark.
I think he was a Targaryen. Because dragonglass and fire. And dragons, which, see any resemblance?
Not the best angle for comparison, but it’s hard to get imaginary creatures to pose for pictures.
(By the way, in one of those recap shows, they were discussing the CGI of S5 Ep9. “He looked just like a real dragon!” one of the guys enthused, and while I knew what he meant, I had to pause it because I was giggling so hard at the idea that this gentleman thought dragons were real, and was pleased that the CGI guys had managed to recreate them so well on screen for those who had not yet made the journey to see one themselves. Presumably at the zoo in Valyria, or something.)
And maybe a dragon who “turns to the dark side,” or something, can be destroyed by the things that come from dragons, or, I dunno, I thought it was kind of a fun little idea, anyway. If I’m right I’ll be amazed. But half the fun of shows like this is having theories and imagining ways to predict where they’re going or what something means; not in a bizarre “The Shining is about the subjugation of Native Americans” way, but in a fun, “hey, this would be cool, wouldn’t it?” way.
Anyway. I’d intended to blog about something else today (actually it was supposed to go up last week), but I didn’t have it finished for today and I wanted to get something up, so here it is. I am still hard at work, oh me oh my.
Oh, here’s a rather dumb little gif.
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Good lord! I cannot believe it’s been so long since I’ve updated here. And this is not going to be a long post (sorry), but I do have some nice long posts planned for the next few months.
I’ve been very busy–mostly working (I have given myself carpal tunnel, bleh) but also dealing with some family-related things; my MIL has been ill and there’s been some time-consuming things going on with the girls–nothing bad, just time-consuming.
I know that you’re all eager for news of the sixth Downside book (which I have tentatively titled UNHOLY LUCK), and I can say that it looks like a Feb 2016 release date is planned. So not long now! I’m also working on a new project, and of course I have the next Terrible-POV book, and a few other things which I can’t wait to tell you about (and will, as soon as they’re more than files on my hard drive).
I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting the blog. See, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and a big Avoider Of Things. So I’ll post something, and for the next week or so I think, “Oh, I just posted.” Then the next few weeks are full of, “I don’t want to post some crappy little meh thing, I’ll wait til I have something valuable to post.” Then comes the “Oh, I’d love to blog about That and That and This, but I’ll write it at the weekend when I have some free time.” Then the weekend comes (and seriously, this isn’t like a one-time thing, this happens constantly) and I think, “Better to just write it and post it directly.”
Then I think of writing it, and realize it’s, like, Friday at 5:00, and think, “I’ll wait until next week, so I can post it early in the week as opposed to the very end.”
This goes on for a month or two, and then I start panicking. “It’s been So Long, so loong, since I posted, I’d better have something really big to say, or they’re gonna be so mad at me.”
Next comes, “I don’t want to come back to the blog with a big old rant about something, like I didn’t stop blogging for a while at all. I need to find a nice little thing to post, to dip my toe back in the water, so to speak.”
Oh, and there’s also the “I’d love to blog about X issue, but my blog isn’t that kind of blog.”
And the “I’ll post it on Facebook. Lots of people are on Facebook, right? So it’s an update from me but I didn’t have to go into my website, which makes me feel guilty and bad because it needs to be updated.”
All of this, btw, has a strong undercurrent of, “Damn it, Stace, nobody gives a shit about you scrubbing your floors or making window screens out of net curtains or the nest of blackbirds outside your bedroom window and how you bought a bird feeder/bath, and how stupidly enthralled you’ve been watching the birds while you wash dishes. They want news and they want book info, and you’re just going to piss them off if you tra-la-la onto here nattering on about whatever random crap pops into your head. Don’t waste your time blogging about other stuff; just get the fucking book(s) done. THEN you can blog again.”
There was also a period of “Shit, WordPress has issued like three updates, and I can’t even get into my site because I’m still running the old version, ack!”
Then we reach the big Avoidance phase, where I just pretend the blog doesn’t exist. This is where I was, until about a month ago, when I skipped back to the “I have stuff to say, just not enough time to say it,” and “They’ll want a big update,” and “I need to stick my toe in first before posting big long rants.”
So here is my toe. It is very sorry it’s been away, as is the rest of me (well, the rest of me is sorry that all of me has been away; it doesn’t really care about my toe).
And I DO have stuff planned. I have some thoughts about happy endings and moral superiority, and various other things, and I do want to prep some fun stuff that I’ve had planned for a while.
…assuming anyone wants to hear about it, of course.
I have missed you all, and am so grateful for your comments on Twitter and Facebook and all of the emails I’ve received.