The Reason For All The Formats

If you are an author who sets your books in Victorian London and your first name is Charles, I have a special section on my bookshelf just for you. Granted, it’s a niche genre, but it’s not that crowded yet so now is the time to make your move if you’ve been considering a name change and a literary specialty. If that isn’t enough to entice you, maybe I should tell you a little bit about the company you’d be keeping. Take a close look at my cool authors shelf, population Charles Dickens and Charles Finch. (On Wednesdays, they wear pink.)

Victorian London is a wonderfully elastic world in which to set a book- by turns atmospheric and grand, violent and sexy. The tension that results from the convergence of Industrial Age modernity and monarchical rigidity is a forceful backdrop. Plus, the wardrobes are on point.
Victorian London: what is it about me that’s so awesome
Colonial America: maybe the top hats
Victorian London: i serve steamed suet for dessert
Colonial America: it’s definitely the top hats

Charles Dickens’ poignant ghost story A Christmas Carol has Victorian London street cred. Dickens drew on his own life experience in his writing, having been a poor child who worked in a blacking factory. As a successful author, his storytelling served as a platform for him to articulate his arguments about the impact of crippling poverty, class injustice, and the need for social reform. He self-published A Christmas Carol in 1843 and the rest is past, present and future. “Bah, Humbug” entered the English language and Scrooge achieved the kind of one-word name recognition that would one day be shared by Beyoncé and Liberace.
Charles Dickens: Goals: codify the meaning of Christmas for generations in one short book
Charles Dickens: (publishes A Christmas Carol)
Charles Dickens: nailed it

Over there on the shelf, to the right of the multiple copies of A Christmas Carol, are the books in the Charles Lenox historical mystery series by Charles Finch. A Beautiful Blue Death introduces Charles Lenox, amateur gentleman detective, wealthy enough to pursue his passion as a hobby but also wealthy enough for his passion to be tolerated by his social circle. (Oh, Victorian London, you and your insufferable class snobbery.) Lenox is sharply intelligent and remarkably intuitive, and his determination and drive are the core of the appeal of the books.
Charles Finch: Goals: publish an award-nominated debut historical mystery novel
Charles Finch: (publishes A Beautiful Blue Death)
Charles Finch: nailed it

According to every car commercial aired between 12/1-12/31 and all 4,324 Christmas movies on Lifetime, the month of December guarantees joys are magnified, memories are made, and problems are solved with a quick application of some Magic Of The Season. Sometimes, that is real life, but December has a way of magnifying all the opposites too. Losses are more resonant. Endings are more heartbreaking. The boomerang between the highs and the lows tuckers me out. Inevitably, there comes a moment in December when I need to shake off all the heightened, frantic expectations and when that moment comes, I’m selecting a favorite from the Charleses shelf for a solid re-reading chill session.  I never get tired of Ebenezer Scrooge throwing off the weight of a lifetime of grief. I never get tired of Charles Lenox’s clever perserverance. I never get tired of imagining myself navigating the streets of Victorian London in a top hat.
Victorian London: seriously?
Colonial America: told you
Victorian London: what about sewage? got lots of that
Colonial America: sticking with the hats

QV in a top hat

Queen Victoria in a top hat. Aesthetic: monarch meta.

If you’ve ever asked me for book recommendation, you’ve heard me talk about the Charleses. (Charleseses? Charlesi.) Also, if you’ve ever asked me for a book recommendation, I am so sorry, and I hope you have recovered. You were unprepared to be utterly swamped by a tsunami of pure booknerd glee. I should have warned you that I am positively evangelical about books I like. If you ask me for recommendations while you are in my undecorated house, I am going to take the book I want you to read off my shelf and press it into your hands while I describe in detail why I love it so much. You poor thing. Just nod and take it; I really can’t help myself. It’s because of my lack of bibliophilic boundaries that I buy the same books over and over again. When I need to spend some time re-reading, I’ll hit up my shelf only to find that the book I want isn’t there. Buying the same books every 18-24 months will really throw off Amazon’s recommendation algorithm.
Amazon: Did you enjoy A Beautiful Blue Death
Me: Yes!
Amazon: Then we recommend A Beautiful Blue Death
Me: I’ll take it

I’ve laid in some emergency formats for the inevitable days that my shelf presents a Charleses (Charlsises. Charlers?) gap. I picked up A Christmas Carol on audiobook this year to go with my hardback illustrated special edition and paperback. I own A Beautiful Blue Death in  paperback and digital and just replaced the hardback (for the third time). When I’m ready to enjoy a favorite, I want to enjoy it however how I can in the moment I have available. Sometimes, that’s e-reading in a waiting room. Sometimes it’s a hardback on a lazy morning or an audiobook on a long drive. And sometimes, I want to enjoy it by pressing a copy into someone else’s hands.

On December days when the edges are ragged and the strings are strung tight, I am comforted by Charleses and the vision of top hats on a busy Victorian London street. Scrooge forgives the world that took his beloved sister. Charles Lenox tracks down West End thugs and Hyde Park racketeers. Souls are saved before it’s too late. There’s redemption and there’s justice. I’m reading something that has an ending I know, because all the endings I don’t know are looming a little too large. Maybe, when you asked me what you should read, I really heard you ask for a good ending. I get it. Here’s a Charles.

Action Items
Charles Finch just published the ninth book in the Lenox series, Home By Nightfall. 
Patrick Stewart’s audio version of A Christmas Carol is marvelous.

The Reason I Check Under The Bed

Diving into Stephen King’s world means making a lot of sacrifices. Peace of mind, a full night’s sleep, inability to walk by a sewer manhole cover without shuddering in fear—you give up all these things when you read his books. Upon reflection (and I have an actual reflection, in a mirror, because I’m not a vampire, trust me because I check all the time thanks to Salem’s Lot) it’s apparent to me that I am on permanent terror alert because Stephen King has messed with my head.

King’s body of work is rife with brilliant examples of benign takedowns: surface perfection lulls you in, seduces you, then tries to steal your soul or hijack your brain or at the very least disfigure you. He’s so good at it, and he’s scared me so many times, that I have diagnosed myself with Post-Traumatic King Disorder.  It, where an bucolic all-American small town is a front for a hungry spider. The efficient, banal government officials destroying minds and lives in Firestarter. The solid New England Victorian-house-with-a-view in Pet Sematary. King will jack with what you trust and laugh while he does it and he probably has a really creepy laugh and now I have to go make sure there’s nothing waiting to bite my legs off hiding under the table one sec BRB.

Mechanical Terror I honestly don’t know what happened to Stephen King when he was learning to drive because in the Kingverse, cars are out to get you. When I took Driver’s Ed I practiced going over railroad tracks and finding the hazard lights button on the dashboard. In Stephen King’s Driver’s Ed class, apparently he practiced cyborg mechanics and demon possession. Is that what you have to know to operate a Class I Vehicle in Maine? I haven’t trusted a car since Christine, the novel about a car who goes on a vendetta-fueled killing spree to punish her owner’s tormentors. Or  the short story “Trucks” (vehicles come to life and try to make the world a better place HAHAHAHA just kidding they drive over people for sport and turn survivors into fuel slaves). Thanks to Stephen King every car I see has a distinct air of menace. If I see headlights flicker, forget it. I need a drink and a nap to recover from the trauma. Stephen King is the reason that I lobby AAA to add a Roadside Demon Exorcism service.
AAA: hi, what is your car emergency?
Me: my Ford Focus keeps going to karaoke bars
AAA: that seems pretty harmless
AAA: a Lounge Demon! we’re sending a team immediately

Furry Terror In the Kingverse, there’s lots of wonderful animals who aren’t trying to eat and/or kill you. And then there’s the mutated rat kingdom in “Graveyard Shift”, which absolutely is trying to eat and/or kill you. Since reading this story, if I make eye contact with a rat I try to smile in a way that says “Please don’t come into my house, restrain me, and drag me to your underground lair so you can eat my extremities.” Thanks a lot, Stephen King. You’ve turned me into a crazy person who tries to make reassuring, non-edible eye contact with rats. My other King-induced animal trauma is a reasonable post-Cujo reaction: AVOID ST. BERNARDS. Naturally, I cancelled all my ski trips to the Swiss Alps.
Switzerland: hello, what is your Alps emergency?
Me: tell the Matterhorn I’m out
Switzerland: what if we offer you free Gruyere
Me: no deal my fondue pot is broken
Switzerland: a Cheese Demon! we’re sending a team immediately


If you feel scared, look at this picture of stuffed animals on a pillow covered with cat pictures (NOT MADE OF ACTUAL CATS)

Invisible Terror You know how sometimes you get an itchy patch and you scratch it and it turns out you’re the host for a murderous alien life form, hahaha? That is the kind of hilarity you can expect out of the short story collection Night Shift. Or the laugh riot that is The Stand, where Stephen King forces you to ponder the question “What if everyone gets the exact same virus cold thing at the exact same time and dies, torpedoing key planet infrastructure?” Y’all—I did NOT pay attention that one semester I took Home Ec. I don’t know how to can or sew or color my own hair. I don’t have any viral apocalypse grooming skills actually. Therefore, I have a mild anxiety attack every time I sneeze. Or if anyone sneezes or feels tired or behaves slightly out of character. As an alert citizen, I make sure that the authorities always know about suspicious situations.
CDC: hi, what is your disease emergency?
Me: i just saw a viral video
CDC: can’t actually make you sick
CDC: Drake! we’re sending a team immediately

Indiscriminate Terror This is actually a terror PSA for you. This is the seemingly harmless, but actually near-fatal scenario: You run into me at the grocery store. It’s July and you notice I’m wearing fuzzy snowflake-patterned pajama pants and an old Hootie and the Blowfish tshirt. You greet me heartily. I answer you, but you sense something is just a little off. A small, uneasy feeling takes root in your stomach. Glancing into my basket, you see barbeque potato chips, a vat of french onion dip, a 6-pack of Lima-A-Ritas and a jumbo box of Tampax.
You. Are. In. Danger. Follow your instincts. Don’t make eye contact. Back away slowly. Abandon your cart and get the hell out. Shit is about to get real in a Godzilla-Tokyo kind of way.
Godzilla: Mothra hold my earrings
Mothra: ‘Zilla why you trippin
Godzilla: I ate four cupcakes and I feel bloated and Tokyo looked at me funny
Mothra: PMS makes women so irra-
Godzilla: (eats Mothra)(burps fire)

Action Items
Stephen King’s son Joe Hill is also very good at scaring the hell out of you. Read Heart-Shaped Box but don’t say I didn’t warn you.