Walking the Floor Over You

I have always loved to read, and have always encouraged other people to read. It’s one of the great pleasures of my life, for as long as I can remember. Once I learned how to read, I never stopped reading. I will probably never stop reading. There are fewer non-sexual pleasures in life as satisfying as reading a good book.

As I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother got me really started into watching old movies–both horror and crime–and also encouraged me to read. She was the one who got me started reading Mary Stewart, by giving me her copy of The Ivy Tree; my friend Felicia in high school reminded me of Stewart and so I started reading more of her work. (I still have not read all of Mary Stewart’s work–that “I don’t ever want to run out of something new to read by Mary Stewart” thing I do) And while I enjoyed all of them, I enjoyed some more than others. For example, i remember reading The Moon-spinners, but not really enjoying it very much, frankly. I never revisited the book…but now that I am doing the Reread Project, I decided to give it another read.

0449027953

It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it. I won’t pretend I saw it straight away as the conventional herald of adventure, the white stag of the fairytale, which, bounding from the enchanted thicket, entices the prince away from his followers and loses him in the forest where danger threatens with the dusk. But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of the deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?

The car from Heraklion had set me down where the track for Agios Georgios leaves the road. I got out, adjusted on my shoulder the big bag of embroidered canvas that did duty as a haversack, then turned to thank the American couple for the lift.

“It was a pleasure, honey.” Mrs. Studebaker peered, rather anxiously, out of the car window. “But are you sure you’re all right? I don’t like putting you down on the hill like this, in the middle of nowhere. You’re sure you’re in the right place? What does that sign post say?”

The above pictured cover was the one I originally read; the reread was of a more recent edition. When I was younger, I was fascinated by ancient history: Egypt, Greece, and Rome, to be exact; Greek or Roman or Egyptian ruins on the cover of a book, especially if it was a suspense novel, drew me to the book like moth to flame. (That was what originally drew me to read Phyllis A. Whitney’s Mystery of the Hidden Hand, which I now believe–my memory lies, remember–was the first Whitney I read, because it was set in Greece) I had also remembered seeing a film version of The Moon-spinners, broken up over two weeks’ episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney, which starred Hayley Mills. I don’t remember much of the film now, but I do remember thinking it was vastly different from the book when I read it the first time. It’s not on Disney Plus (neither is Johnny Tremain or Now You See Him Now You Don’t, which has annoyed me regularly since I signed up for the service), and I’m not about to spend even three dollars on renting it on Amazon Prime–although I was tempted enough to look it up to see if it can actually be viewed anywhere.

Anyway.

I enjoyed the book much more greatly this time. I’m not certain why, precisely, I didn’t like it as much as Stewart’s other books at the time, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. The Moon-spinners focuses on Nicola Ferris, an adventurous young Englishwoman in her early twenties. She works at the British Embassy in Athens; her parents died when she was a teenager and she went to live with her aunt Frances, who is a leading botanist. Frances is also single and terribly independent, like most women in Stewart novels; Nicola admires and loves her aunt greatly and emulates her. Her aunt is taking a yacht voyage with friends around Greece and the islands; Nicola decides to take a vacation, meet up with Frances on Crete–a friend, a travel writer, has recommended a very remote village with a small hotel to them–and Nicola has the great good fortune, while on Crete, to meet an American couple (the above mentioned Studebakers) who are driving around Crete and offer her a lift to Agios Georgios, putting her there a day earlier than expected. (This sentence, describing the Studebakers,  They were both lavish with that warm, extroverted, and slightly overwhelming kindliness which seems a specifically American virtue–is a terrific example of Stewart’s exceptional skill as a writer; in that one sentence she tells you exactly who the Studebakers are.) The Studebakers aren’t terribly keen on letting her off in the middle of nowhere, to lug her suitcases and such over a dusty mountain trail to a village where she isn’t expected until tomorrow and where she will know no one; fortunately her work at the embassy has given her a passable knowledge of speaking Greek.  Nicola insists she’s fine and thanks them for their kindness, and starts trudging along the dusty path.

All of Stewart’s heroines are strong, capable, intelligent young woman who can take care of themselves; and courageous. It is while walking on the path that Nicola’s Greek adventure takes off–she stops at a pond to get a drink of water, and in the reflection of the water she sees a man’s face, watching her. Your average run-of-the-mill heroine would scream and run off or be terrified; Nicola is merely startled and curious. This is how she comes across Lambis, the Greek boatman, and young Mark Langley, who has been shot and needs medical attention. Nicola immediately makes Mark’s problems her own. Lambis, as it turns out, had put in his boat in a nearby bay so that Mark and his younger brother Colin could go exploring and look at the ruins of an old church, originally a shrine to a Greek god but converted during the days of the old Eastern Empire into a Byzantine church. As they are walking back to the boat they come across of small group of people arguing over a recently dead body. Mark is shot and left for dead; Colin is taken. And so, now of course, Nicola wants to help rescue Colin and help Mark–she isn’t, after all, expected for another day, and of course, the killers/kidnappers must be from the small town of Agios Georgios.

Stewart is, as always, an exceptionally talented writer. Her descriptions are simple yet poetic; she vividly brings the town, the mountains, the sea, everything to life so well you can easily imagine yourself there. And courageous Nicola, now possessed of dangerous knowledge that could get her killed, has to navigate the village while trying to help Mark find Colin, with no idea of who she can trust and where she can turn to help.

Nicola is a terrific heroine, and I can see why Stewart was so popular with women and teenaged girls; she wrote smart, no-nonsense, capable young women who were courageous and fearless and could pretty much handle anything. The suspense is, at times, unbearable.

There is an element of romance to the story as well; Nicola begins to have feelings for Mark, but it’s practically an afterthought, and it feels almost like it was inserted into the story. There’s absolutely no need for the two of them to develop feelings for each other; other than the psychological closeness that comes from a shared danger (one of the things I loved the most about the sequel to Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile, is that it showed that happy couples who bond over adventures don’t necessarily wind up living happily ever after; I’ve often wondered about the couples from these types of novels), and this is one of the reasons I no longer really consider Stewart a romantic suspense writer; the romances in her books often feel that way–something inserted into the story later to appease either her agent or editor–and they are completely unnecessary to the story; if anything, the romance develop organically because of what else is going on in the story; the suspense/mystery aspect is the most important part.

And Stewart consistently wrote some of the best openings in crime fiction.

Highly recommended; I will probably reread it again someday.

She’s in Love with the Boy

Well, good morning to you, too, Wednesday!

Last night after I got home and worked for a while–“Festival of the Redeemer” is coming along nicely, as well as some other things I’m doing–and when it was time to take a break for the evening, Romancing the Stone popped up on one of my streaming services (goal: determine cost-effectiveness of every streaming service compared to usage; and start canceling subscriptions–there’s far more to watch than I’ll ever be able to catch up on) and I thought, “ah, I’ve always loved this movie,” so I clicked play. I hadn’t thought about the movie in a very long time, but it’s one I remember fondly; I love Kathleen Turner and this was before Michael Douglas soured on me (I don’t know why, am aware that it’s completely unfair and based on nothing but raw feeling), I think it was one of Danny Devito’s first big roles in film after his big break as Louie on Taxi. It was clearly intended to be an attempt to reach the audiences that turned out in droves for Raiders of the Lost Ark (this was a big time for action/adventure films of this type), but while it’s not Raiders, it has a lot of its own charm and appeal.

If you’re not familiar with Romancing the Stone, it’s essentially another one of those movies about writers that shows how little screenwriters know about actual book publishing, or even how the novel-writing process works. It begins with a bizarre yet funny scene from a Western, with Kathleen Turner doing a voice over narration. As her heroine and her love interest finally evade the bad guys and ride off into the sunset together, the film cuts back to Kathleen Turner, sobbing at her typewriter, saying out loud oh that’s good, and then typing THE END. She then celebrates finishing her novel with her cat, Romeo–because she apparently has no friends, no love life, nothing, despite being an international bestselling author. (I will say, however, that one of the things I do appreciate about this film is that her apartment in Manhattan isn’t anything special; it’s not even remotely as nice as the one Monica and Rachel share on Friends–and one would think an international bestselling author could afford something nicer, but it was nice to see a relatively realistic Manhattan apartment.) She is kind of a nerdy girl; little to no make up, hair pulled back tightly, baggy clothing. Of course, over the course of the movie as she falls in love with the Michael Douglas character as they travel throughout Colombia (and there’s another flaw in the film; she has to rush off to Colombia to try to save her sister, and bring the treasure map her sister sent her in the mail–yet rather than flying from New York to Cartagena–where her sister is–she flies into some interior airport and then has to catch a bus through the jungle to Cartagena; Cartagena is a major city with an international airport. She could have just flown there–but then she wouldn’t have wound up in the interior, met the Michael Douglas character, found the treasure, etc etc etc.) We also see, as she falls in love with Jack (Michael Douglas) her blossoming into her full womanhood; she wears her hair down and lavishly styled, sexier clothes, make-up, etc.–because of course a successful career woman can’t be a complete woman without a man.

Not such a great message for a romantic adventure film, really. And once she returns to New York–and quickly bangs out a novel based on her adventures in Colombia–you can see the difference in her is also lasting, despite the fact she and Jack have been separated, but she keeps hoping–a “hopeful romantic”, as she describes herself to her only friend, her publisher, played by Holland Taylor–that he’ll show up; of course he does, complete with his dream sailing ship which they talked about in one of their getting-to-know-you, falling-in-love down sequences, and roll credits. The boat is even named after one of  her most popular characters.

I did enjoy watching the movie again, frankly; despite its weird misogynistic messages. It was a hit, and even spawned a sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, which I also remember enjoying, and it also made me think about how writers are often (incorrectly) portrayed in films and television programs–particularly romance writers. Joan, of course, is one; so is the wretched misogynist character Jack Nicholson plays in As Good as it Gets, and of course, one of my favorites–the character Meryl Streep plays in She-Devil.

But for the record, I’ve never once typed THE END when I finish a manuscript, and they also always make it seem as though writers write a complete and finished manuscript that is publishable the first time through.

If only that were the case.

I did manage, as I said earlier, to get some work done on that short story yesterday instead of what I should be working on, but sometimes something like “Festival of the Redeemer” gets stuck in your head and keeps insisting on coming out rather than what you should be doing. This morning I am going to try to get some emails caught up–I’ve already folded a load of laundry, emptied and refilled the dishwasher–and then I am going to try, desperately, to get some work done on the Secret Project, and maybe another five hundred or so words on “Festival.” I’m worrying it like a sore tooth, frankly, and for some reason I just want to write this story, give voice to this character, see Venice through his eyes, and slowly develop how poisonous the relationship he’s in actually is, and why he’s decided to do what he’s going to do in Venice. This is tricky–of course, it’s always tricky when trying to figure out motivation for killing someone, particularly when the relationship is as young as the one in the story. I don’t know if the story will actually work, and I’m not really sure I am telling it correctly, but I am deeply enjoying writing it, even if there’s no market for it anywhere.

Oh, well. I suppose I can try to talk my publisher into doing a second short story collection next year.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone!

1441248_10152053620251575_597944873_n