Does anyone here remember Thomas B. Costain?
No? Well, we'll come back to him later.
My book received its e-launch last night, one day after its official release. I answered a lot of questions, and probably went on too long, but it's difficult to do much else when you're the one being interviewed. The audience could submit questions, but we had no way of seeing or experiencing them in any sense. I couldn't tell how they collectively might be reacting to the reading. The give and take one might have with a crowd, however small, followed by a social event, simply could not happen in this COVID-mired world.
Earlier that day, COVID-19 rerouted the annual local Santa Claus Parade. It took place at an airfield. Instead of crowds waving as floats floated and entertainers marched by, people loaded their kids into cars and drove around the airfield, around stationary floats and entertainers-- all safely distanced, of course. An odd turn of events, an inversion of the normal way of things, but one that local kids will likely recall, more than any future parade they see. It also meant my wife and I had no downtown traffic snarls as we drove to an historic nineteenth-century church. It has a beautiful interior and incredible acoustics-- both lost to its congregation at the present time. Other places of worship have reopened with COVID restrictions in place. This one serves a significant ageing population and they still meet online. My wife's accompanist and collaborator on a current music project works there as the organist and musical director. I recorded them, an audition performance for an event that they might either attend in person or join online, next year.
Assuming, of course, they pass the audition. It's a little like submitting a book for publication.
TJ, meanwhile, drove to the airfield. Her daughter was dancing in the parade. More on her in a moment, too.
Work will be a little less crazy after Monday, so I want to return to writing. I have the next novel more than half-finished (not SF), but I'm also pitching a collection (SF, Fantasy, Horror, Slipstream), a blend of previously published, unpublished, and new. It will include (hypothetically) a novella that was shortlisted a few years ago for the Ken Klonksy Novella Contest. It didn't win, but was accepted for publication. Then they changed their mind, and then.... Ever try to pitch a novella when you're an unknown writer?
First, however, I want to make headway on a new story that I have in mind to start the collection. I have the basic plot (though not the ending), completed as much world-building as I need to write, and have penned some of the opening. But I need to think more about the protagonist. At present, she's merely a notion for a character.
TJ-- whose daughter danced in the reverse parade-- dropped by. She had assisted me with a part of The Con, and came for her complimentary copy. We sat at a safe distance and talked. She asked about my current writing, and I mentioned this new story idea. Halfway through explaining it, I had a Eureka! moment.
How offended would she be, I asked, if I fused some of her personality and appearance with the existing notion I have for the protagonist? I explained why that would work in this story. The protagonist would have to be someone who invites confidence, which is absolutely true of TJ. Her hair, noteworthy but not out of the ordinary, would get a lot more attention in 1971. A subtle way, in other words, to remind readers we're in an alternate timeline.
"I'd have to back-date your birthday. And by the time I'm done, she probably won't be much like you." She liked the idea, though.
She joined the online launch, and texted me afterwards. A few people did send such feedback, so it made it all seem a little more real.
One response came by email from Graham, an Aussie I met in Europe back in '89. He watched the launch from half a world away. It's been thirty-one years since we met, and more than twenty since I last saw him.
So about Thomas B. Costain. I evoked his ghost at the end of the online event. If you haven't heard of him, that's not terribly surprising. The Canadian-born writer worked as a journalist and editor in the first half of the twentieth century. He had some success with short fiction, but his young-man attempts at novels were rejected. When he was just a little older than I am now, he sold his first novel. Several others followed: bestsellers, generally historical in nature. A number were adapted, with varying degrees of success, into Hollywood movies. Paul Newman made his debut in a Costain adaptation. My mother had one of his novels on the shelf, Below the Salt. I understand it's not his best effort.
I never read it.
George R. R. Martin cites Costain as an influence, but most of the world has moved on. Still, his books were generally well-received, and he lived his dream of writing during the final twenty-three years of his life. Half of a community centre is named for him in his native Brantford. I can also find reference to an elementary school bearing his name, but that either closed at some point or had its name changed.
I see his books on second-hand store shelves now and then. Perhaps I'll buy one.
With mine currently charting on the bestseller list at, uh, #245,712 (so says Amazon's algorithms), Costain's career grants me a little hope.