Showing posts with label Thornton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thornton. Show all posts

04 May 2017

My Husband, the Writer

 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the sixth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by Robyn Thornton
In honor of the fast-approaching International Family Day, I asked my wife, Robyn, to write something up for this week's blog entry. This is what she came up with. Thanks, Honey! One thing, though: see below–all the way at the bottom of this page–for pictures from our ACTUAL honeymoon, lest you think the ONLY honeymoon my wife got was getting to tag along while I pressed the flesh at B'con!
— Brian
On our first date, Brian brought me a signed copy of his Lincoln biography.  I thought it was one of the coolest gifts I had ever received.  We discovered that we had a lot of other common interests, but our love of all things related to books and the creation of them was certainly one of the first threads in our shared tapestry.  I soon learned how much dedication and headspace was needed to weave together those stories as I spent many weekends both in awe of Brian’s discipline and wrestling with my jealousy over the amount of time that he needed to focus.  It was difficult for me to understand in the beginning of our relationship, but his determination to persevere in chasing his passion for writing was inspiring.

When we knew that our relationship was getting more serious, his writing took a back seat to making sure I felt I was a priority.

For my birthday that year, Brian took me on a trip to Oregon.  As I slept in the hotel, Brian stayed up all night to finish a book deadline. He wanted to make sure I got a good night’s sleep, so he had set up his laptop on the sink in the bathroom.  I remember waking up several times in the night to see the light streaming from under the door.  His kindness and compassionate spirit were more reasons why I was falling in love with him.

So, when Brian and I got married, I thought I knew what to expect.

I was so wrong.

Brian worked hard to finish a book to take me on a mini-honeymoon to San Francisco (We took the
My husband, flashing his "convention smile."
real one in the UK the following Summer).  Bouchercon was in that city the week after we tied the knot, so our trip served a double purpose: both as a mini-honeymoon and for Brian to attend panels and to network.  It was there that I learned that it’s not just about what you write, but how you market. And then there’s the networking: one of the most important tools in a writer’s toolkit.  I’ll admit that the shop talk at the time was not as captivating as I now find it and we had to learn how to balance our leisure time with business objectives.   But I found myself wanting more of his time and it proved to be harder on both of us.

It was one of the first lessons we had to learn as a newlywed couple.  We planned a big wedding, got married, and bought a house, all in the same nine month period.

Brian continued to juggle his book projects with us moving in and getting settled.  I recall one Sunday night in particular that makes us laugh now.  I was assembling a couple of kitchen stools while Brian was frantically reviewing final edits (the “galleys” as he called them) on a book whose deadline was 9 AM the next morning.

I had asked him to take a break and tighten one bolt and when he refused, I said in frustration, “Fine, why don’t you just work on your stupid book!”

Boy, do I regret that now.

What I also now realize more than ever, is that it’s not easy.

It’s not easy juggling two full-time careers, a young son with boundless energy, taking care of the day-to-day responsibilities and finding time and headspace to write every day.  Brian’s been able to do this.  And he’s now inspired me to start writing too.

And I now understand the sacrifices that he made and what it takes to commit and stay on track.  I get how satisfying it is to be able to devise plots and character arcs and stories that just need to be told. And as you continue to work and rework and distill and then rework again, the elation of knowing that someday, there’ll be readers to enjoy and discover what you’ve created.  And there’s nothing like seeing Brian’s face after he’s completed his word count for the day and the joy that this accomplishment gives him.


For that, it makes it all worth it and I wouldn’t trade one moment.

(And now, UK honeymoon pics!)




30 June 2016

Kids These Days....

by Brian Thornton
 
So, about my day gig.

I teach ancient history to eighth graders.

And like I tell them all the time, when I say, "Ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s.
For thirteen/fourteen year-olds, mired hopelessly in the present by a relentless combination of societal trends and biochemistry, there's not much discernible difference between the two eras.

It's a great job. But even great jobs have their stressors.

Like being assigned chaperone duty during the end-of-the-year dance.

Maybe you're familiar with what currently passes for "popular music" among fourteen year-olds these days. I gotta say, I don't much care for it. Then again, I'm fifty-one. And I can't imagine that most fifty-one year-olds in 1979 much cared for the stuff that I was listening to then.

And it's not as if I'm saying *I* had great taste in music as a fourteen year-old. If I were trying to make myself look good I'd try to sell you some line about how I only listened to jazz if it was Billie Holiday or Miles Davis, and thought the Police were smokin' and of course I bought Dire Straits' immortal "Makin' Movies" album, as well Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" when they both came out that year.

Well. No.

In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album ("Go West," with "YMCA" on it), and a number of Elvis presley albums and 8 track tapes. I also listened to my dad's Eagles albums quite a bit. An uncle bought Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" for me, and I was hooked on a neighbor's copy of "Freedom at Point Zero" by Jefferson Starship, but really only because of the slammin' guitar solo Craig Chaquico played on its only hit single: "Jane." And I listened to a lot of yacht rock on the radio. I didn't know it was "yacht rock" back then. Would it have mattered?

But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, my point is that someone my age back then may very well have cringed hard and long and as deeply if forced to listen to what *I* was listening to at eardrum-bursting decibels, and for the better part of two hours.

That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.

Two hours.

Two hours of rapper after rapper (if it's not Eminem, Tupac, or the Beastie Boys, I must confess it all sounds the same to me) alternating with "singing" by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.
Thank God we got some relief in the form of the occasional Bruno Mars song. Bruno, he brings it.
And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.

 One group of these kids in particular caught my attention. Three girls, all fourteen, all of whom I knew. All wearing what '80s pop-rock band Mr. Mister once referred to as the "Uniform of Youth."

Of course, the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.

But in embracing that change, does youth itself actually change? Bear with me while I quote someone a whole lot smarter than I on the matter:

"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of getting off their butts and moving around."

The guy quoted (in translation) was Socrates, quoted by his pupil Plato, 2,400 years ago.

And some things never change.

Getting back to the three girls mentioned above, their "uniform of youth" was the one au courant in malls and school courtyards across the length and breadth of this country: too-tight jeans, short-sleeved or sleeveless t-shirts, tennis-shoes. They looked a whole lot like so many other girls their age, out there shaking it in ways that mothers the world over would not approve of.

In other words, they looked like thousands, hell, millions of American girls out there running around today, listening to watered down pablum foisted on them by a rapacious, corporate-bottom-line-dominated music industry as "good music", for which they pay entirely too much of their loving parents' money, and to which they will constantly shake way too much of what Nature gave them–even under the vigilant eyes of long-suffering school staff members.

Yep, American girls. From the soles of their sneakers to the hijabs covering their hair.

Oh, right. Did I mention that these girls were Muslims? Well, they are. One from Afghanistan. One from Turkmenistan, and one from Sudan. At least two of them are political refugees.

You see, I teach in one of the most diverse school districts in the nation. One of the main reasons for this ethnic diversity is that there is a refugee center in my district. The center helps acclimate newcomers to the United States and then assists in resettling them; some in my district, some across the country.

So in this campaign season, when I hear some orange-skinned buffoon talking trash about Muslims, stirring up some of my fellow Americans with talk of the dangerous "foreign" *other*, it rarely squares with the reality I've witnessed first-hand getting to know Muslim families and the children they have sent to my school to get an education: something the kids tend to take for granted (because, you know, they're kids, and hey, kids don't change). Something for which their parents have sacrificed in ways that I, a native-born American descendant of a myriad of immigrant families, can scarcely imagine.

(And it ought to go without saying that this truth holds for the countless *Latino* families I've known over the years as well.)

I'm not saying they're saints. I'm saying they're people. And they're here out of choice. Whether we like that or whether we don't, they're raising their kids *here*. And guess what? These kids get more American every day. Regardless of where their birth certificate says they're from.

Just something to think about, as we kick into the final leg of this excruciating election season.
Oh, come on. You didn't think this piece was gonna be just me grousing about kids having lousy taste in music, did ya?

(And they do, but that's really beside the point.)

Blessed Eid.

20 March 2014

The Man Who Sold the Papacy: Pope Benedict IX

by Brian Thornton
A few years back I wrote a couple of books about "bastards": (in)famous people with a mean streak- including some that many today continue to consider "heroes," or at least "good people"- admittedly many of these historical figures have overall positive public images, but in order to show that most everyone has a bit of the "bastard" in them, I included discussions of George Washington putting the moves on his best friend's wife, Jefferson siring children with one of his slaves, and so on.
More fun to write were the accounts we have of many historical personages who have all but disappeared from the pages of history, and getting the opportunity to lay out just exactly why these characters ought to still be considered "bastards" even today. This is one of those "neglected" personages. The account below is an expanded version of the one that ended up in The Book of Ancient Bastards, and lends more detail than I was given within the constraints of the book itself. I hope you enjoy it.
This entry and the one to follow both deal with medieval popes. One who put the throne of St. Peter up for auction, the other who put the corpse of his predecessor on trial. First, Benedict IX: the man who sold the Papacy.

“That wretch, from the beginning of his pontificate to the end of his life, feasted on immorality.”

                                                                                                 – St. Peter Damian, Liber Gomorrhianus


This week’s bastard is another of those wacky medieval popes who so scandalized contemporary and
Pope Benedict IX
later church writers.  As was the case with one of our previous weekly bastards (Elagabalus), Pope Benedict IX came to his position very young (the sources disagree on this point, but he was definitely no older than twenty) because he was the scion of an extremely well-connected family.

Think about it: who gives the sort of wealth and power that went with being pope to a twenty year-old and doesn’t expect it to go straight to the kid’s head?  Who doesn’t expect someone living the medieval equivalent of a rock-star life to go a bit nuts once thrust into the limelight?

In Benedict’s case that’s precisely what happened.

Born a younger son of Theophylact, the powerful Count of Tusculum, Benedict was “elected” pope in 1032.  In becoming pope he succeeded not one, but two of his uncles, who between them had spent the previous twenty years keeping the papacy “in the family.”  It is a virtual certainty that Benedict’s father spread a fair amount of money around among the papal electors in order to ensure that it stayed there.

Daddy’s purchase of the papacy had a profound effect on young Benedict.  Cynical and capricious from the moment he took the Shoes of the Fisherman, Benedict’s rule was quickly marked by episodes that illustrated not only his complete disregard for either tradition or propriety, but his taste for wretched excess as well.  In the disapproving words of one chronicler, Benedict was a “demon from Hell in the disguise of a priest.”

Pope Benedict VIII, and...
He earned this sort of scorn by working his way through
...Pope John XIX, both uncles of Benedict IX


as many of the Seven Deadly Sins as he could, as quickly and as often as he could.  This pope was apparently on a first-name basis with most of the whores in central Italy, sold church offices for hefty bribes (a sin known as “simony.”), hosted frequent bisexual orgies, sodomized animals, and even went so far as to curse God and toast the Devil at every meal!  Dante Alighieri, author of The Inferno, proclaimed Benedict’s reign the low ebb of the history of the papacy.

Desiderius of Monte Cassino
As was the case with so many medieval popes (including our next bastard, Stephen VII ) before him, Benedict owed his position to the Roman aristocracy, which meant that most of his critics came from among the many German clergymen holding positions in the church.  Most of his opponents considered their reigning head of the church something of a bogeyman; perpetrator of “many vile adulteries and murders.”  Desiderius of Monte Cassino who was a contemporary of Benedict IX and later reigned as Pope Victor III, wrote that Benedict committed “rapes, murders, and other unspeakable acts.”  Benedict’s reign, wrote Desiderius, was “so vile, so foul, so execrable that I shudder to think of it.”

For his part Benedict doesn’t seem to have given a damn what his critics thought.  His power base was among the members of the Roman aristocracy, and as long as they backed him he felt free to do as he pleased.  Turned out he reckoned without the powerful (and fickle) Roman mob, who rioted in 1036 and ran Il Papa right out of the Eternal City.  The uprising was quickly put down and Benedict returned to power there, but his hold on his throne was tenuous at best after that.

By the time Benedict’s opponents within the church had succeeded in driving him from Rome a second time in 1045, Benedict had tired of being pope.  So he consulted his godfather, a well-respected priest named Johannes Gratianus (“John Gratian”) about whether he could legally resign this most holy of offices.  When the “Godfather” assured him that such a thing, although unprecedented, was wholly acceptable according to church doctrine, Benedict offered to sell it to him for a ridiculous sum that would apparently be used to fund the former pope’s “lifestyle change.”

The older man accepted and took the papal name of Gregory VI.  The bribe he gave Benedict so completely bankrupted the papal treasury that for months afterward the church was unable to pay its bills.  To further complicate matters Benedict’s foes among the clergy had refused to recognize Gregory’s right to the succession, electing one of their number pope as Sylvester III.

So technically Benedict left not one, but two popes (well, really a “pope” and a pretender, or “antipope”) behind in Rome when he retired to one of his country estates later that same year.
Benedict didn’t waste any time, immediately proposing to a cousin (a common custom in his day).  When she refused him the ex-pope got it into his head that it wasn’t such a bad thing being pope after all.  Within weeks he’d headed back to Rome trying to get his old job back.

This time his allies among the Roman aristocracy deserted him, and Benedict got booted from the city a third time for his trouble.  So now there were three “popes” running around claiming to be the infallible head of the Holy Catholic Church!

The cool-headed emperor Henry
At this point clearer heads prevailed, and a group of bishops sent an appeal directly to Emperor Henry III in Germany, asking him to intervene.  The emperor convened a special church council in 1047, and by 1048 Antipope Sylvester had been convinced to re-take his position as bishop of Sabina, Gregory VI had been convinced to retire, and “Pope” Benedict IX had been officially removed from office.

A year later he was charged with simony (a charge of which he was clearly guilty).  When he refused to appear before the church court that indicted him, Benedict was excommunicated.

How he responded to this latest reversal is unrecorded.  But at some point during the next decade Benedict had a change of heart and as the story goes, presented himself at the abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, and asked for God’s forgiveness.

He spent the remainder of his days as a monk in that abbey, dying there in 1065.

Repentant bastard.

21 February 2013

I owe it all to Rilke

It is my pleasure to introduce our new blogger, Brian Thornton.  As you will learn, he is the author of several books, but I thought of him for this spot mostly because of his short stories, which include two of the best I have read in recent years: "Paper Son" in SEATTLE NOIR, and "Suicide Blonde" in AHMM.  I hope that in months to come he will write about the art of writing historical mysteries, among other topics.  And now, a big SleuthSayers welcome for the man of the hour!
-Robert Lopresti 

by Brian Thornton

First things first, I'd like to thank my new colleagues here among the Sleuthsayers for their exceedingly warm welcome. It's nice to be invited to contribute, and an honor to be asked to do so here of all places. So, thanks all!

For my inaugural contribution to this blog I thought I'd talk about the power of networking. Oh sure, it's hardly a revolutionary concept that if you hope to succeed in the Brave New World of 21st century publishing you're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't get out there and meet people, make contacts, get yourself some name recognition, etc.

And over the past few years I have watched a plethora of writers work this angle with the sort of single-mindedness usually reserved for I.R.S. auditors and bomb squad technicians; all with varying degrees of success. First I hear it's about name recognition, then about platforming, then about leveraging your contacts, and then of course, the networking magic bullet du jour seems to be creating something known as a "street team."

But hey, keep checking back. I'm sure it'll be something different, some other angle, some other hook, in a month's time.

Look, I get it. With the current on-going technological revolution, publishing is undergoing a centuries-overdue market correction, and, to steal a line from Daryl Hall talking about the music industry's not dissimilar growing pains of a few years back, "There are no more gatekeepers."

So this begs the question: how do emerging authors shout loud enough to be heard among the myriad other voices in publishing's ever larger, ever louder gymnasium?

I don't have a magic bullet. What I do have is some experience, a track record, and a working theory. And since this blog is all about writing, and the craft, and (at least in part) the whole publishing game, I thought I'd share it with our readers.

So here goes: get out there, go to writing events, whether they be signings, conventions, or workshops. Once there, meet people, and be yourself.

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

That's it.

 Simple, right?

But wait, you say, I live nowhere near the big cities where these sorts of things happen, or I can't afford to go to one of the big conventions, etc., etc., etc., and so on, and so forth.

Point taken.

If you can't get out there literally, then get out there figuratively, using the tool you're currently using to read this post.

After all, that's what I did. And it lead to my first book deal. What's more, I couldn't have done it without the assistance of Rainer Maria Rilke. More on him in a bit.

Here's how it worked:

Just about a decade ago I had finally finished my first novel: an amateur sleuth piece set in a law school in the Pacific Northwest. I was quite excited to have it complete and ready for...what, I had no idea.

A friend of mine who worked in marketing told me that I needed to market my book. "I'm the author," I scoffed. "It's someone else's job to market the book."

I was, of course, incredibly naive.

A bit of research revealed a summer writers' conference, as well as several national writing groups with local presences in my area (I live in Seattle). When I signed up for that first writers' conference I was between jobs, the entrance fee wasn't cheap.

But that's another story, for another post.

Since I had written a mystery novel, I decided to join the Mystery Writers of America. Luckily they held meetings in my area, and I began attending them. I met people and was myself. I made friends. I had a good time. I networked.

One of the best-kept secrets about membership in Mystery Writers of America is its email list, EMWA. In the years since I first joined the organization EMWA has been somewhat eclipsed as a networking tool by Facebook and other forms of social media, but for me it proved invaluable.

About a year after I joined MWA, I saw a post on EMWA by someone who, in the course of responding to someone else's email to the list, remarked how much she loved the work of a German poet you likely never heard of, named Rainer Maria Rilke.

This guy:

 Interestingly enough, I also happen to be a fan of the work of Rainer Maria Rilke (In translation, I don't speak or read German). So I did what you do when you meet someone who shares an uncommon interest with you.

I struck up a conversation, and made a friend.

This new friend turned out to be an acquisitions editor for an east coast press. She's still a friend (flew out from Boston a couple of years ago to attend my wedding), and she was the person who offered me my first book deal. And my next, and then introduced me to other editors at her press, who in turn offered me still more work.

It was all nonfiction, and at first it was work for hire. But it paid pretty well (better than most mid-listers bring in these days), and most of the work was writing about things that interested me. Eventually I even worked out royalty-based deals for original ideas of my own.

 As a direct result of that first friendship I am now the author or co-author of seven books, the ghostwriter of another one, and collection editor for two vastly different anthologies.And that first editor friend? She's now my agent.

I guess what I'm saying is that time spent searching for a "magic bullet" to get you published is time wasted. I made that friendship hoping to compare notes with someone else who enjoyed "Autumn Day" and the Orpheus sonnets, not angling to meet someone who could do something for me.

So the moral of the story: get yourself out there and let those connections happen. You never know where they'll take you!