Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Guest Post: How The Demon’s Parchment Was Created by Jeri Westerson
I suppose I’d first have to talk about the whole “Medieval Noir” thing. When I set out to write a medieval mystery, I didn’t want the same sort of amateur sleuth monk or nun pastiche. I wanted a hard-boiled detective like I found in my favorite Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler novels. And because those storylines tend to be a little darker, I dubbed it “Medieval Noir” as my own little subgenre. Now why did I want a hard-boiled detective in a medieval setting? Well, for one, no one was doing it and you should always write what you can’t find out there to read, so they say. I also thought it would be tremendously cool to merge my two literary loves, that of the medieval mystery and the hard-boiled crime novel.
I found that it works really well.
What could be better than taking Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, his white knight with his own code of honor and justice, and make my own character a real knight? Well, ex-knight. See, here’s the thing. I studied the typical hard-boiled detective and found that they had a few things in common. They were loners, they usually had some sort of chip on their shoulder, they had a lot of run-ins with the cops, and they had their own code of justice.
Oh yeah. And they were always distracted by some dame.
So Crispin Guest, my ex-knight turned PI, embodied all those tropes. He was once a knight, a lord of his own manor, when he threw in his lot with a conspiracy to put the stately duke of Lancaster on the throne instead of his ten-year-old nephew, Richard. Richard was crowned and the conspirators were all found and executed. But when it came time to dole out Crispin's fate, the duke of Lancaster, Crispin's beloved mentor, pleaded for his life. His life was granted but everything else was forfeit and he found himself penniless, stripped of his rank and his status, and set adrift on the streets of London. Eventually, he reinvented himself as the Tracker, the equivalent of a medieval private eye, working for sixpence a day…plus expenses.
It seems I like to involve my characters in murder and something else to occupy them, and so each book also involves a religious relic or some otherworldly object. In book one, VEIL OF LIES, it was the facecloth of Christ, the Mandyllon. In book two, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, Crispin must deal with the Crown of Thorns. And in my latest, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, we go a step further and involve Crispin in missing pages of the Kabbalah which might have released a terrifying Golem on the streets of London.
In THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, I particularly wanted to explore the plight of medieval Jews. In England, they had been exiled in 1290, almost a hundred years prior to the action of this story, and I got to imbue Crispin with realistic prejudices of the time. It’s refreshing writing something in your beloved characters that you are opposed to, but it’s also interesting trying to change their mind while keeping it true to the time period.
I usually start with a relic, or in this case, the Golem, and build my story from there. The Kabbalah has, in the last few years, become the spiritual darling of the rich and famous, but with just some cursory research, I could tell that it constituted far more than a pop diva’s diversion. Needless to say, those who say they ascribed to it didn’t have the least idea what they were talking about.
To write historical, it goes without saying that there will be research involved. Usually quite a bit, and so it is naturally something I enjoy doing, else this would be a tedious exercise. I started with the legend of golems and then the Kabbalah, and decided that I would make this a serial killer story, taking my storyline from the rather bizare life of a real medieval serial killer, who lived one hundred years later than Crispin. Then I added more characters, more red herrings, more diversions for Crispin, and in this one, a most unusual femme fatale. It’s simply a matter of laying layer upon layer—a George Seurat painting, blotting stratums of dots of paint on a canvas before standing back to see the whole, clear image.
You can read a first chapter of THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT at Jeri’s website www.JeriWesterson.com.