Candy Korman is a free lance-writer and mystery novelist whose books have classic monster motifs. She lives in New York City. This week we discussed THE MARY SHELLY GAME, a who-done-it that combines the elegance of Agatha Cristie’s style with themes taken from Mary Shelley‘s FRANKENSTEIN, her love of Tango, and her new release BRAM STOKER’S SUMMER SUBLET.
The Mary Shelley Game is witty and contemporary, yet it successfully relies on classic motifs on drawing-room who-done-its. I thought it was clever of you to have Amanda, your protagonist, mention Agatha Christie mysteries, and then have the plot unfold like one: the country house, the quirky guests, a twist about whom the murderer was.
I gave my nod to the master of the classic English country house murder mysteries in my own house party story. I couldn’t resist. My mother is a huge mystery fan, so I started reading Agatha Christie very early on. She may not be part of my DNA, but Christie is definitely part of my early education.
There are many layers in the novel. Amanda tells the main story, but we also get into the heads of other characters, especially the two stalkers. There is also the added layer of the stories the guests wrote for the weekend entertainment. Would you mind discussing how you planned the novel. Did you start with a master outline? Write the main story separately from the stories? Or did you just start at the beginning and write to the end and develop each piece as you came to it?
The Mary Shelley Game actually started as a longer work. A number of years back, I realized that I’d seen at least a hundred Frankenstein movies, but had never read the book and it was time to give it a try. I was surprised. It was a sophisticated, non-linear story told from multiple points-of-view. Around that time, I was invited to a weekend house in upstate New York. The setting, Mary Shelley’s original and the story behind her creation sparked something in my imagination. I wrote a very arty, out-of-sequence, literary novel about friends telling their own Frankenstein stories while the monster (made by the choices of people in power) stalked them.
No one wanted to publish it, so it sat around for a long time, until a very wise woman suggested that I transform it into a shorter, straight ahead, thriller ebook. Last summer, in cafes in Berlin and at my desk in New York, I dissected the original and put it back together — Frankenstein style — while eliminating more than one third of the original text and adding an extra threat in the woods. No outline, no master plan and not a method that’s easy to repeat.
I appreciated the sense of humor in the book. I really loved Igor’s story. Of the stories told that weekend, is there a one that’s your favorite?
Igor’s is the best!
Did you mean any irony in choosing the victim among your characters?
Umm… there really is some irony there! But that particular choice had more to do with the dynamics of the relationships between the characters and who was needed to further the story.
The real monster in The Mary Shelly Game was created as much as Frankenstein’s monster was, a sum of the dysfunctional parts of family and society. I took note of your reference that the monster was peacefully talking to the blind man until his children came and saw him as something other. How did the parallel between the murderer in your novel and Mary Shelly’s tragic monster evolve?
You are very perceptive. The scene with the blind man is the quintessential moment from the original. It speaks to the humanity of the monster and the monstrous nature of humanity — in the person of the blind man’s family. The monster in my book is created by the greed, ignorance and self-interest of the people with power. They create a monster because it’s expedient. He is the unintended consequences of their choices.
You’ve written about Writer’s Boot Camp on your blog. Did you create the parameters of the “camp” or learn about a discipline from other sources? Tell us what your writing day looks like, or what expectations you put on yourself in terms of production.
My “boot camp” is simply my crazy writing life. I publish short stories on my freelance writing website every month. In order to have 12 short stories (or 10 if two are longer) to publish, I have to write between 15 and 20 stories a year. I’ve been doing that for years. No one told me I had to do it, but… I know it’s been good for me. It’s like going to the gym or flossing your teeth, if you make it a habit you do it, and you benefit from the effort.
I write a lot and I’m a relatively fast writer. I’m also a slow reader and I enjoy research (I was a history major in college). My freelance work is primarily for businesses and not-for-profit organizations. I write website text, brochures, patient information sheets, promotional text, annual reports, presentation scripts, newsletters, etc. This requires a lot of interviewing so I meet, if only on the phone, Skype or the internet, many interesting people. I’m also finishing up a ghostwriting project. Nothing like writing someone else’s memoir, for learning how to get inside a character.
You tango! I was in Chile a few years back and was fortunate enough to attend Festival Danza America in Iquique. The tango dancers from Argentina took my breath away with their grace, agility, and pure athleticism. How much does tango play in your life? Do you do it for fun? In competitions? What do you find most rewarding about it?
My Tango is entirely social. I started with Swing, Latin and some Ballroom, but my first Argentine Tango class changed all that. It’s like I fell into the Tango vortex and never came out. A few months later I as in Buenos Aires. It’s a complex and beautiful dance with a very long learning curve. Argentine Tango is danced all over the world and since I love to travel it’s a great match for me. I’ve danced in many places including Berlin, Nijmegen (the Netherlands), Perugia and Buenos Aires. At home in New York, I dance a few times a week and have made wonderful friends through Tango.
There’s no Tango in The Mary Shelley Game, but it makes several important appearances in my second Candy’s Monster — Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet. The protagonist doesn’t know anything about Tango so bringing her a Milonga (a Tango dance) in the story was an interesting challenge. I had to try to see the dance and hear the music from a relatively naive point-of-view.
Do monsters follow you? I read about the encounter with the monster on the bottle at the restaurant where you recently ate. Do you look for or expect signs of synchronicity that parallel your work? I personally love this aspect of being creative.
I thought there would be two monsters and then I started rereading Poe. I’m working on my Poe-inspired ebook this summer. I think all the monsters were lurking for a long time and I just wasn’t looking. Now that I’m looking, I can’t help but find them everywhere. Creativity seems to be about putting together bits and pieces in new ways to form something new.
You have a new book Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet, which was released yesterday, July 11, 2012! Is it another drawing-room mystery? What would you like readers to know about?
Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet was inspired by the original Dracula — another book that was a surprising read. It’s a epistolary novel, so I updated the diary entries, letters and news clippings to diary entries, voice mail messages, email, etc. The character is feeling lost and alone after a romantic disaster. Instead of spending the month of July in Italy on her honeymoon, she’s pet sitting in an apartment in the East Village in New York. The dog is old, the parrot goes on philosophical rants and she gradually comes to the conclusion that the man next door is a vampire. It’s a comedy.
Do you plan to continue the series? What other monsters can we expect to appear?
Yes! I’m in Edgar Alan Poe land right now. After that I’m not sure which way I’ll go. I’m playing around with some interesting ideas. I read Lovecraft when I was a kid. Maybe it’s time to give him another try? Right now, the plan is to have the Poe ebook out by the end of the year, so I had better get back to it!