Skewering Sacred Cows
by Libby Malin
The Edgar-winning mystery writer Andrew Klavan wrote a series of novels that enthralled me about five years ago (Shotgun Alley, Dynamite Road, and Damnation Street). Gritty to the point of raunchy in places, yet also sweetly and poetically human in many others, these novels traced one long mystery arc and one long transformation of a primary character who finally figures out how to be a true hero.
Many scenes in the books spoke to me. One involved a young sleuth, a few years out of full-time academic life, visiting Berkeley’s campus pursuing clues in a secondary mystery. While there, he listens to several students discussing a dissertation:
The subject was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Now, you may not care about literature one way or the other—after all, you’re reading this—but it matters a lot to me. And I personally think the Ode is one of the wisest and most beautiful poems in one of the sweetest and most beautiful languages by one of the best and most beautiful of men, namely John Keats. But no. According to Stu (the Promising Genius), the Ode was no more than the “effulgence, or maybe I should say effluvium, of certain social interactions and assumptions.” What’s more, all these interactions and assumptions were sexist, imperialist, racist, and altogether very, very bad. Therefore, said Stu (who was a Promising Genius) they needed to be analyzed. Analyzed, analyzed, analyzed. Everything, it turned out, needed to be analyzed. Even the fact that some of the people in the poem were men and some were women. “It’s just historicity posing as gender positioning, presupposing a chiastic ontology,” said Diane.
I became ridiculously excited reading this passage. You see, I hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but they’re not in English or creative writing. And so, I always felt a little, oh, intimidated and maybe even “uneducated” in these fields, even though I myself was a professional writer.
But here was a professional writer articulating what I’d dare not think—that maybe some of the study in those fields was, well, bunk, that maybe one could learn to appreciate and analyze great writing without some of that scholarly analysis. (By the way, I’ve blogged about college writing programs’ disconnect from the world of commercial fiction. If you check out the post, sign up for the Istoria Books mailing list!)
Flash forward several years. I’ve now written numerous novels, earned my own Edgar nomination in young adult mystery, and have three humorous women’s fiction books under my belt, one of which was optioned for film. I have an idea for a fourth based on what might be called a “high concept” opener. A man stops a wedding on a dare, but it turns out to be the wrong wedding.
That’s an eye-grabbing start, sure, but a full-length novel has to be based on richer material. Luckily, I had another story I wanted to marry (no pun intended) with this one—the transformative journey of a timid personality into a courageous one, a character who realizes, little by little, that he can’t just “go with the flow” any longer, he has to make choices that could cost him his career.
Thus, Thomas Charlemagne was born—a history scholar, whose life work is studying a poetry-writing medieval monk, Aefle. Tom’s story, in fact, roughly parallels that of his “little monk,” who struggles with whether to stay in his safe scriptorium or venture into the wilder world to pursue his lady-love, Gisela.
As I wrote Aefle and Gisela, I decided that I, too, needed to discover some inner courage to take on a “sacred cow”— institutions of higher learning, such as the one at which Professor Charlemagne works. I had to accept that some readers might not like my viewpoints, but to soften my tale would be to weaken the point it ultimately makes. That is, how difficult it is to stand up to pressure to conform. I’m hoping that’s a message everyone can relate to, whatever their ideological outlook.
I hope you enjoy Aefle and Gisela, a book that deals with a serious topic in a humorous way –standing up to bullies— eliciting smiles at the same time it raises questions. You can buy it for Kindle, Nook or other e-readers!
And, by the way, it was a great joy to e-publish this book. As an author, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom, knowing I didn’t need to worry about whether an agent or editor would shy away from the project because it was too “political.”
Please feel free to email me at Libby_Malin (at) Hotmail (dot) com! I love to hear from readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LIBBY MALIN
Visit the author’s website at: http://www.LibbyMalin.com
Visit the Istoria Books blog to read an interview with the author by her alter ego: http://istoriabooks.blogspot.com/2011/09/libby-interviews-libby-about-aefle.html
Thank you Libby, for this guest post and for giving us some background on Aefle and Gisela! Now on to my review!
Title: Aefle and Gisela
Author: Libby Malin
Publisher: Istoria Books
About the Book: STOPPING A WEDDING: WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Medieval History Professor Thomas Charlemagne thinks he's finally slaying the dragon of his "Timid Tommy" reputation when he responds to an outlandish dare at a bachelor party and stops a wedding the very next morning. The only problem? He wanders into the wrong church. That doesn't matter to bride DeeDee McGowan, however, who was having second, third, and fourth thoughts about saying "I do" anyway. She grabs the chance to leave her groom at the altar, dragging Tom with her.
DeeDee and Tom share a history, a fling more than ten years ago, before he went off to graduate school and started ascending the career ladder of academe and she took over her father's car dealership in sleepy Oyster Point, Maryland, building it into a coveted business treasure. Their reconnection sets sparks flying between them -- from the original passion that bonded them and the class differences that parted them. Meanwhile, what started as a prank leads to serious legal issues for both Tom and DeeDee as the groom sues them, DeeDee countersues, and Tom is caught in the middle.
Concerned that this distraction will affect his quest for tenure, Tom encounters an unsympathetic department chair eager to replace him with a renaissance expert from the UK and a women's studies professor committed to challenging the "validity" of Thomas's signature research into an obscure poetry-writing medieval monk, Aefle, and his lady-love, Gisela. A comic romp blended with sharp satire, AEFLE AND GISELA delivers laughs and love as Thomas learns, along with his "little monk," that life outside the “scriptorium” requires him to find real courage at last.
My thoughts: This was a fun book to read and I often found myself talking out loud to both DeeDee and Thomas. As the synopsis says, they had been separated by class differences. But I think they were more alike than they thought. They both ended up with chips on their shoulders, thinking they had to prove their worth, neither sure where they wanted to end up.
Thomas had been given the moniker "Timid Tommy" in school and rather than fighting it, he seemed to succomb to it - thinking that because people called him this, it must be true. Doing research on Aefle, and life in general at the university, allows him to live in a cocoon where "Timid Tommy" does not exist. Until that fateful day that he walks into DeeDee's wedding instead of his cousin Wendy's. Then the careful life he has created for himself, the life he thinks he can "coach" DeeDee into being a part of, starts to be encroached upon by life in the messy world.
I think DeeDee had settled for Buck's proposal because she was all alone in the world. She had her father's car dealership, but wanted a family and knew that time was not slowing down. She had her reservations, but found out some news the night before the wedding that proved she had been right all along. It was fateful for her as well that Tom walked in to her wedding.
She liked Tom and had liked him in high school, but even after letting it be known that she liked him, he was still afraid to ask her out. It was until their five year class reunion that they hooked up for a brief fling. This is where the chips' on their shoulders seem to surface. She felt he was somewhat of a snob and looked down upon her and he was trying to flee Oyster Point and all the memories of "Timid Tommy". Unfortunately, he did have a way of talking down to people, but I don't think that he meant it how it sounded. He had asked DeeDee to come with him, thinking he was asking in a way that would agree with her sensible side, but she saw it as him trying to "make her a better person." I agree that he went to some extremes that would make any normal person feel belittled. It got me a little hot under the collar on occassion. DeeDee had her faults though as well, and even though other people had suggested some of the same things Tom did, when he suggested them, she thought him a snob.
It was fun the way the book wrapped up though, and I found myself chuckling along the way. It is good when a book takes you through some different emotions. I like it when I am emotionally involved with the characters. Tom and DeeDee are definitely two people I could call friends - well DeeDee anyway (lol).
~I received a complimentary ebook in exchange for my review from Libby Malin and Istoria Books.~
AEFLE AND GISELA (A Romantic Comedy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Istoria Books, July 2011
306 KB (199 pages)