Showing posts with label Frank Yerby. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Yerby. Show all posts

01 December 2022

Formulas Aren't Just for Chemistry

O'Neil De Noux's Random Thoughts of Nov. 4 brought up author Frank Yerby, which brought back a lot of memories, reading all the books my mother hid in the back of the closet.  My mother had both "The Foxes of Harrow" and "The Devil's Laughter". (Which are probably the best) I read them both on the sly, and went on to read a lot more.  Mostly disappointing.  (In fact, "An Odour of Sanctity" easily ranks among the worst novels ever written, and that includes the complete works of L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand.)  Still, back in the early 60s, they ranked among the hottest non-porn books you could read, along with Ian Fleming and Jacqueline Susann.    

Besides prurience, one of the things that I learned from reading Yerby was that they had a formula to them.  I know, shocking, right?  And here I'd been reading Nancy Drew books by the wagonload.  But Yerby's were - well, today I realize how sexist the damn things were, with a dash of S/M thrown in here there and everyfreakingwhere - but so obviously formulaic...  Almost all of them revolved around a male protagonist, who was super-alpha male without being extremely tall, handsome and muscular. Indeed, like the James Bond girls in the all of Fleming's novels, he's often damaged - in "The Devil's Laughter", his nose has been severely broken; in another novel he has a permanent limp, etc.  But every man who sees him recognizes - and tells other men! - "that is much, much man", and every woman who sees him wants him, even if she hates him for it.  (She hates him because he'll cure her of her frigidity, which is every incel's dream, revealed 60 years ago.)  

Speaking of the women, Yerby men all fall for and sleep with at least three women in the course of the novel: the Pure One, the Evil One, and the Damaged One.  
Spoiler alert: he ends up with the Pure One, who has been always waiting for him, just him.  And the Evil One always gets her comeuppance.  And the Damaged One generally dies or goes mad.  

Once I figured out the formula, I could tell you within the first three chapters what the outcome would be. But isn't that the point of all romance novels?  (BTW, if you want to read Frank Yerby novels today, you can go to the Open Library and borrow them.)

Formulas, of course, have a long historical provenance.  And the rule of three is EVERYWHERE:  The traditional plot structure of most of Shakespeare's romantic comedies contrasts three courtships:  the major, "noble" lovers whose courtship is of a high, romantic nature (Rosalind and Orlando), and then a middling one (Silvius and Phoebe, or Celia and Oliver), which alternates romanticism and reality, and the finally a plebian, comic one (Audrey and Touchstone). That's of course, from As You Like It, but you can see the same pattern in most of the others, even (at the end) The Taming of the Shrew.  (Kate & Petruchio, Bianca and Lucentio, Hortensio & his widow.)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice contrasts Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy, Jane Bennett and Mr. Bingley, and Charlotte Lucas and Rev. Mr. Collins.

And Anthony Trollope did this all the time.  (As you know by know, I'm a huge  Trollope fan.)  A classic example is Can You Forgive Her?, where the three courtships are complicated by two suitors for each lady:  aristocratic match (Plantagenet Palliser & Lady Glencora, who's in love with the ne'er do well Burgo Fitzgerald), middle match (Alice Vavasor & John Grey & her villainous cousin George Vavasor), plebian comic match (Mrs. Greenow and her two suitors, Squire Cheeseacre and Captain Bellfield.)  
BTW:  Mrs. Greenow is the reincarnation of the Wife of Bath, and the novel is worth reading just for her.  

There's nothing wrong with formulas when they are well done.  Formulas can be satisfying, or boring, depending on who's doing it.  But it's also a delight when you find something that starts out formulaic and then corkscrews in unexpected ways to keep you constantly awake and entertained.

And now, leaving the realm of novels, romance, courtship, we are going to move on to something completely different:  1988's The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, an official Australian-New Zealand co-production, directed by Vincent Ward.  Here's the official synopsis from the official website:

"Griffin is nine years old. He’s haunted by fragments of a dream.

He envisages a journey. A celestial city, a great cathedral, and a figure roped to a steeple, about to fall….

It is Cumbria 1348, the year of the Black Death. A medieval mining village lives in fear of the advancing plague. Griffin’s older brother Connor returns from the outside world in a state of despair, until Griffin tells of his dream and reveals their only source of survival:

Make tribute to God. Place a spire on a distant cathedral. Do so before dawn or the village will be lost.

Griffin embarks on an extraordinary journey with Connor, Searle the pragmatist, Searle’s naive brother Ulf, Martin the philosopher and Arno the one-handed ferryman. In his vision together they tunnel through the paper thin earth to a new world, a fabled land of hellish extremes, unfamiliar as the distant future of the antipodes, 1988.

But Griffin has a chilling new premonition… for one of them, the journey will end."

To paraphrase Rob Lopresti: "Ho ho, I hear you say. A medieval sci-fi story. Got it.  To which I must reply: You don't got nothin'."

And you don't - I can assure you that, the first time you see it, no matter what you think is going to happen next, or where you think this is going, you will be wrong. But each and every twist turns out to be absolutely perfect...

Exciting. Interesting. Anything but formulaic. Wonderful.  And that's what I love.  And every time I watch it, I love it all over again.  


Check it out.

Meanwhile, BSP:

My latest story, "The Closing of the Lodge" is in the latest AHMM:  

My story, "Cool Papa Bell", is in Josh Pachter's Paranoia Blues;

And on Amazon HERE

04 November 2022

Random Thoughts

The next book or story I'm going to write will not be in the first person or second person or third person. I'm going to write it in the fifth person where each sentence begins with –

I heard from this guy who told someone ...

That's a joke from stand-up comic/actor Demetri Martin so he gets credit for it. I do think it would be cool and a helluva challenge. Demetri Martin is the same guy who wants to go to a beach frequented by guys with metal detectors. He'll go early in the morning and bury objects with the inscription, "Get a life."

What happened to Frank Yerby's literary estate?

When I was a kid, my father read a lot of Frank Yerby paperbacks – The Foxes of Harrow, The Vixens, The Golden Hawk, Benton's Bow, The Saracen Blade, Jarrett's Jade and others. By the time I was out of college and reading what I wanted to read, instead of what was assigned, I didn't get around to Yerby. I should have. His books are out of print today. Amazon and EBay sells old hardbacks and paperbacks but there are no eBooks or audiobooks and no new editions of his works. My public library (an excellent library) does not carry any Yerby books. The Foxes of Harrow may be obtained via interlibrary loan.

Frank Yerby left the U.S. in 1952, in protest against racial discrimination, living in France then Spain. His ancestry was African, Native American and White. He died in 1991.

Frank Yerby

That's all for now. 

27 September 2018

Nostalgia Bites

BalthazarNovel.jpgAs a bookaholic from my early childhood, I can assure you that I have read my way through shelves, yards, perhaps miles of books.  (That is not a complaint.)  And I have no problem with that.  I've also gorged on music, movies, television shows, and every other entertainment that is made available to me.  Some of this is because I'm greedy, and some of this is because reading is so much easier than writing:
"Will you be writing a novel?" "If denied every other form of physical gratification." - Pursewarden, in Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Good old Lineaments of Desire.  Seriously, if you've never read The Alexandria Quartet, check it out.  It rivals Roshomon as far as technique, complications, and amazing reveals.  And it definitely has atmosphere.  I'm not sure that Durrell's Alexandria still exists, but I'd love to see if it does.

BTW, Alexandria, Egypt is also the hometown of the poet C. P. Cavafy.  He's best known for Ithaka, and Waiting for the Barbarians.  (The latter has spawned eponymous novels, songs, paintings, an opera, and an upcoming movie.  Seriously good.  And timely.)  My personal favorite Cavafy poem is The God Abandons Antony:
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
Anyway, along the line I have noticed that my tastes have changed.  Thank God.  For one thing, when I get totally bored by a novel, or it's really, really bad, instead of plowing through I quit reading it. (With non-fiction, I apply my grad school skills and gut the boring ones because knowledge / information doesn't always come in a nice candy coating.)  Even when I was reading novels for the Edgars, there were two books that I just gave up on.  One I called "Fifty Shades of Green" because all the sex took place out in the wilderness.  (Presumably a statement of some kind, but I started laughing about page 15 - for all the wrong reasons - and didn't stop until I tossed it onto the pile and reached for the next book.)  And another book that was absolute torture porn.  The first 10 pages gave me nightmares, so I stopped.

Plan 9 Alternative poster.jpgThis is not to say that there's no place for trash.  I still think that an evening of Plan 9 From Outer Space can be very fulfilling, as well as almost any Joan Crawford movie.  And if you've got Bette Davis fighting with Mary Astor or Miriam Hopkins, I'm front row seating.

And there are some things that are like a train wreck.  You just can't take your eyes off of them:  Ancient Aliens.  Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (did you know that Venus is actually a comet?  Ha!).  Pink Flamingos.  Richard Wallace's Jack the Ripper, Light Hearted Friend (did you know that Lewis Carroll was actually Jack the Ripper?  Ha!)

And I would not have survived grad school without a stack of really cheesy romance novels for mental popcorn.

A couple of summers back I went through a fit of nostalgia and re-read a bunch of books from my tween/teen years.  Some held up.  Marjorie Morningstar is pretty damn good; so are The Once and Future King (which I still know almost by heart), Ship of FoolsThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold, etc.  

But a lot didn't hold up, mostly the books I'd read for the sex, like Frank Yerby novels, because, in the 60s, it was him, Harold Robbins, or Ian Fleming for an educational experience.  (Harlequin romances barely went beyond a kiss in those days.)  Besides, my mother read Yerby, my father read Fleming, and I simply snuck off with their copies when they weren't looking.  (Even as a teenager I couldn't stand Harold Robbins.) 

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress coverBTW, teenaged Eve was so glad to find Robert Heinlein.  Tunnel in the SkyHave Spacesuit, Will TravelStranger in a Strange LandThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and many more.  It was my first exposure to strong, intelligent women, and got me ready for Emma Peel.

My two favorite Heinlein quotes are both from The Moon is a  Harsh Mistress:
TANSTAAFL  and  "Is no rape on Luna.  Men won't permit." 

And not, I might add, by curtailing women's freedom to dress, work, walk, jog, speak, behave, and live any way she damn well pleased.

Still, be careful giving in to nostalgia:  sometimes it bites.

Back when Netflix first came out I watched a bunch of 1960s movies that I loved when I first saw them, and while there were a lot of great, great, great movies made back then, there were also some that made my jaw drop.  I liked this crap?

Billy Jack:  I'm embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed it back in 1971, even though even then I knew that the dialog was really bad.  And that they'd all have ended up shot to death in real life.  I mean, this is after Kent State, folks.  Idealism was long gone.

And Blow Up turned out to be a big wad of nothing.  I still think it's main reason for success was that it was the first time that a major actress - Vanessa Redgrave - showed her bare breasts on screen.  But then, I've found I can't stand any of Antonioni's films.  If I'm going to do slow-burning moody atmospherics, give me Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock any day, or Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris or Andrei Rublev.  

Five easy pieces.jpgFive Easy Pieces.  Jack Nicholson in youthful full form.  I loved the scene with him playing the piano on the back of a pick-up truck, and the restaurant, searching for toast, both then and now.  But you know something?  The rest of the movie sucked swamp water.  The women were all basically sexual fungibles, with no intelligence or purpose other than to cling to a man like a limpet.  And Nicholson's character was about as much fun as a razor blade.  In fact, Bobby Dupea was the exact [male] embodiment of the description Jack Nicholson's character gives of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Wolf twenty-four years later:
"You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way you're your own problem."
(There's a lot of it about.)

But back to books.  I reread a couple of Yerby novels, and, while I still can't help but like The Devil's Laughter (we all have our guilty pleasures), I nominate An Odor of Sanctity as one of the Top Ten Worst Books of all time.  Set in the time of the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer, every single scrap of dialog is thees and thous, until certes, when I didst reach XXIV, I didst no longer giveth the rear end of a yon black rat.  Not only that, but the hero, the girlishly fair but apparently extremely well-endowed Alaric, like James Bond, suffers from the Dick of Death:  he can't keep it in his pants, any woman he marries dies, and half the women he has sex with die as well.  And plot?  What plot?  From Goodreads, Jackson Burnett writes:
"At one point, Alaric gets on his horse to ride to Cordoba to rescue his one-of-many true loves. Along the way, his horse stops, refuses to go forward, and turns to take Alaric off on a side story to fix an unresolved plot problem. When the hero's horse makes the calls on a novel's narrative arc, you know you are in trouble."
But I will give it credit:  it's still [marginally] better than:
  • The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl - no, I haven't read it, but, thanks to Smart Bitches/Trashy Books, I don't have to, and you don't either - what a hilarious review!  
  • The Lair of the White Worm - author, Bram Stoker.  BTW, Ken Russell made a movie of it in 1988 starring Hugh Grant.  I wonder if he's managed to buy up all the prints of it yet? 
  • The entire Left Behind series. 
  • Anything by Ayn Rand.