Showing posts with label Mary Stewart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Stewart. Show all posts

25 April 2020

How Mary Stewart rocked the Literary World and the Lives of Women like Me


When I say rocked, I don't mean 'rock on'!  Nope, I mean rocked to the core.

Since mid-March, we've been in close to lockdown here in the True North.  That has given me time to revisit old favourties and be utterly shocked by the revelations therein.

When I was a young girl in the seventies, I graduated from Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, and then to the masters of romantic suspense, Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier and my particular favourite, Mary Stewart.

Of course I did.  The hormones were running high, and the choice of males in my classroom left a lot to be desired.  I yearned for big romance.  But I wasn't happy with romance genre books and found them boring.  This gal wanted high adventure rather than sweet attraction.  So suspense, it was.

At that young age, I didn't even know what type of man I would want in my life.  Surely not Heathcliff.  Not Mr. Darcy.  Those heroes did not reach me.  Far too brooding and sulky.

Then I read My Brother Michael.  Holy Heartbeat, Batman!  There, I found the man of my dreams and the heroine I wished to become.

Most men of my age know Mary Stewart from her brilliant King Arthur and Merlin novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.  Wonderful books.  But I'm speaking of her romantic suspense novels in this column today.

Simply put, they were revolutionary.

Readers, did you know this?  A quiet revolution was happening in fiction, and Mary Stewart was at the epicentre of it.

In the 70s, I couldn't have put my finger on it.  Now, with decades and experience later, it's absolutely clear to me why she was my favourite.

Why?  Her heroines.  These women were educated and had careers.  They were veterinarians, Latin teachers, Shakespearean actors.  They traveled solo to foreign places!

But with adventure comes mishap.  For years, I had read books and seen movies where women waited to be rescued.  Even The Princess Bride, a movie loved by so many, had a princess who relied on others to rescue her.

I wanted a princess who would pick up the sword herself.  (Even more, ditch the princess.  I wanted her to be Queen.)

Mary Stewart's protagonists had courage and resourcefulness.  They fought back when threatened.  They risked their lives rescuing large animals (This Rough Magic) and even men (The Moonspinners.)  This was not only unusual for the time - it was absolutely groundbreaking.

Second reason I fell in love with the stories of Mary Stewart:  her heroes.

These were the men I wanted in my life.  Some may find this hard to believe (stop laughing) but I have been told I am a strong woman.  I was the sort of gal who was told by profs at university that I "didn't know my place."

In Stewart's books, I found the ideal man for a strong woman.  Her heroes were my kinda guys.  Well-educated, but when things go bad, they don't walk away from a fight.  There was a primitive edge there, a peel back of civilization when the chips are down.

In Airs Above the Ground, the male lead forces the hand of the villain down on a red hot stove burner while saying, "It was this hand, I believe?"  (The hand that had previously hit the hero's wife.)

I cannot begin to tell you how sexy that is.

In My Brother Michael, the heroine is fighting hard but losing.  Her lover arrives just in time to kill a
powerful Greek criminal with his own hands in a to-the-death fight; he breaks the fiend's neck.  Of course, said male lead also happens to be a classics scholar...but hey, in the UK, classics scholars can have commando training.  An unbeatable combination of brains and brawn.


Stewart was magic for a young miss trying to be more than society expected her to.  She was magic to an aspiring writer yearning for adventures.  But more than that, she was revolutionary.

My good friend Jeannette Harrison said it best:

"I think all female crime-fighters of today owe a huge debt to Stewart.  She was one of the first writers of popular fiction to portray women who were not helpless and hysterical in a crisis."

Think about that, you superhero and comic book heroines who kick butt!  All you female private investigators in fiction today!  And give a bow to Mary Stewart, who bravely gave us those role models over fifty years ago.

Vos saluto.

How about you?  Any other authors you would also salute?

Melodie Campbell was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently, but she writes about one.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS has been shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award 

for Excellence in Crime Writing (Crime Writers of Canada.)  You can find The Goddaughter series at all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER


24 February 2018

How long should we write?
Bad Girl confronts the hard question


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Is there an age at which we should stop writing novels? Philip Roth thought so. In his late seventies, he stopped writing because he felt his best books were behind him, and any future writing would be inferior. (His word.)

A colleague, Barbara Fradkin, brought this to my attention the other day, and it started a heated discussion.

Many authors have written past their prime. I can name two (P.D. James and Mary Stewart) who were favourites of mine. But their last few books weren’t all that good, in my opinion. Perhaps too long, too ponderous; plots convoluted and not as well conceived…they lacked the magic I associated with those writers. I was disappointed. And somewhat embarrassed.

What an odd reaction. I was embarrassed for my literary heroes, that they had written past their best days. And I don’t want that to happen to me.

The thing is, how will we know?

One might argue that it’s easier to know in these days with the Internet. Amazon reviewers will tell us when our work isn’t up to par. Oh boy, will they tell us.

But I want to know before that last book is released. How will I tell?

The Idea-Well

I’ve had 100 comedy credits, 40 short stories and 14 books published. I’m working on number 15. That’s 55 fiction plots already used up. A lot more, if you count the comedy. How many original plot ideas can I hope to have in my lifetime? Some might argue that there are no original plot ideas, but I look at it differently. In the case of authors who are getting published in the traditional markets, every story we manage to sell is one the publisher hasn’t seen before, in that it takes a different spin. It may be we are reusing themes, but the route an author takes to send us on that journey – the roadmap – will be different.

One day, I expect my idea-well will dry up.

The Chess Game You Can’t Win

I’m paraphrasing my colleague here, but writing a mystery is particularly complex. It usually is a matter of extreme planning. Suspects, motives, red herrings, multiple clues…a good mystery novel is perhaps the most difficult type of book to write. I liken it to a chess game. You have so many pieces on the board, they all do different things, and you have to keep track of all of them.

It gets harder as you get older. I am not yet a senior citizen, but already I am finding the demands of my current book (a detective mystery) enormous. Usually I write capers, which are shorter but equally meticulously plotted. You just don’t sit down and write these things. You plan them for weeks, and re-examine them as you go. You need to be sharp. Your memory needs to be first-rate.

My memory needs a grade A mechanic and a complete overhaul.

The Pain, the Pain

Ouch. My back hurts. I’ve been here four hours with two breaks. Not sure how I’m going to get up. It will require two hands on the desk, and legs far apart. Then a brief stretch before I can loosen the back so as not to walk like an injured chimp.

My wrists are starting to act up. Decades at the computer have given me weird repetitive stress injuries. Not just the common ones. My eyes are blurry. And then there’s my neck.

Okay, I’ll stop now. If you look at my photo, you’ll see a smiling perky gal with still-thick auburn hair. That photo lies. I may *look* like that, but…

You get the picture <sic>.

Writing is work – hard work, mentally and physically. I’m getting ready to face the day when it becomes too much work. Maybe, as I find novels more difficult to write, I’ll switch back to shorter fiction, my original love. If these short stories continue to be published by the big magazines (how I love AHMM) then I assume the great abyss is still some steps away.

But it’s getting closer.

How about you? Do you plan to write until you reach that big computer room in the sky?



Just launched! The B-Team 

They do wrong for all the right reasons, and sometimes it even works!
Available at Chapters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and all the usual online suspects.

08 May 2014

Other Places


by Eve Fisher

In a shameless attempt to win a vacation, I filled out a survey the other day about past vacations.  It asked - among an endless list of things - for a memorable sight, restaurant, etc., from various cities that my husband and I have been lucky enough to seen.  And I decided to share some of them with you.

Herodion Roof-top Bar
Athens, Greece.  We were given a tip by a cousin to stay at the Herodion Hotel in Athens (http://www.herodion.gr/).  If you ever go, stay there.  Well-run, surprisingly quiet, and three wonderful advantages:
(1)  It's right around the corner from the Acropolis Museum.
(2)  It has a rooftop restaurant with a view to die for.
(3)  Every room (or at least ours did) has a balcony from which you can see the Acropolis. At night, with the Parthenon lit up, an appropriate beverage, the warm air...  you never want to go back inside...
Movie Tip:  (none of these are specifically in Athens, but...)  Mediterraneo; Zorba the Greek; A Touch of Spice
Mystery Tip:  Anne Zouroudi's Hermes Diaktoros mysteries; also quite a few Mary Stewart's (old, but well-written)

Florence, Italy.  We went there on a guided tour, and I'm not giving names because I don't want to get sued. We were NOT happy, because they ran our feet off, didn't listen to any suggestions (like can we stop to get a bottle of water or use the toilet), and basically didn't know as much as we did about Italian art.  Sigh. Anyway, of course they took us to see Michaelangelo's David, giving us a full hour or so to appreciate the masterpiece.  I was satisfied in about 10 minutes (so I'm a Philistine), and I went wandering around the rest of the museum (Galleria dell'Accademia), and right around the corner was a wonderful room that was full of discarded Madonna altarpieces:



I mean, all four walls were covered in these, stacked seven high, heavy beaten gold, with blue-robed Madonnas with heavy-lidded eyes...  And yes, discarded altarpieces - because in Italy, as the Renaissance came in, you wanted something a lot more modern than these hypnotic, incense-laden half-domes of gold...
Movie Tip:  "Obsession"; "A Room with a View"
Mystery Tip:  Giulio Leoni - The Mosaic Crimes starring Dante Alighieri as sleuth

File:Amsterdam canals in summer.JPGAmsterdam, the Netherlands.  Besides canals, bicycles, the Rembrandthuis, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, etc., there is also my favorite activity in any foreign city, eating.  I always try to find an obscure one where locals eat, and one night in Amsterdam we lucked out:  a restaurant which was chockful of elderly patrons, eating and talking.  We sat next to a table of eight little old ladies who were gossiping over their wine and lamb with huge whoops of laughter.  I don't remember where it was - but we loved it.  The lamb was very good, too.
Movie Tip:  "The Girl with the Pearl Earring"
Mystery Tip:  Jansillem van de Wetering, the Henk Grijpstra and Rinus de Gier mysteries.

Venice.  I fell for Venice the way a teenaged girl falls for that sexy older man who everyone knows is wrong for her.  Including her.  But it doesn't matter:  the look, the voice, the touch, everything is intoxicating.  I still feel that way. Riding the vaporettos to Murano and Burano, not to mention San Michele (I like old cemeteries); eating spaghetti a vongole and minestrone every chance I got; chamomile tea on a rainy afternoon, overlooking the canals; the smell of the place, the feel of the place, the light, oh, the light...  Give me half a chance, and I'm going back there, and staying as long as my pension will allow.

File:Canal Grande Chiesa della Salute e Dogana dal ponte dell Accademia.jpg

Movie Tip:  "Don't Look Now".  (We actually stayed in the hotel that part of this movie was set in.)
Mystery Tip:  "Don't Look Now" (du Maurier), and, of course, Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti mysteries.

Well, there's a start.  Now, if only that survey will send me back to one of these places...