Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Well this is a horrific nothing from one end to the next."

Farnham wished his niece wasn’t there so they could get on with the facts of the case and Breen wouldn’t have yet another chance to call him an amateur. But the doctor, his oldest friend and volunteer nuisance, was intent on having the whole, long tale.
-Anon, Sir, Anon
In the interviews I have done on several blogs around the block, people have expressed surprise, amusement, and even "Wow...that's a good idea..." that I write in a variety of genres. What I love about bouncing about from one to the next is that I get a better sense of who I am as a writer: my strengths are more definite because they remain strengths through children's fiction, fantasy, and murder mysteries, and my weaknesses can't hide because I am always applying them to the next genre and seeing them wreak havoc which then has to be edited. Also, the sensation of getting to move on to a new genre is as addicting as jumping from an African desert to the steppes of Russia in one bound.

I am getting to do quite a few things differently in Anon, Sir, Anon. One of these things is the chance to finally write a fabulous friendship between two male characters. I have this thing about strong brother-friends that has made me want to write them for some time. Think Sam and Frodo, Merry and Pippin,  Jed and Matt Eckert in Red Dawn, Mole and Ratty in The Wind and the Willows, or Marcus and Esca from The Eagle of the Ninth...pretty much any two guys who have been through reams of life together and are still strong friends in the end. War movies do this to me all the time. I think this friendship tie is the thing that makes so many people like horse-and-boy or dog-and-boy stories...but I find it more fascinating when it is between two humans. With the friendship having humans on each side, both have their own lives, identities, and dreams...and when they can manage to stick together out of sheer will-power (i.e. not bound, as a man and woman are, in a marriage covenant), it's pretty amazing. Girl friendships are wonderful and sister-bonds are great but more than this, I love to read about manly pairs. I hate the term "Bro-mance", but there is something to be said for the concept of two guys who genuinely love each other in a Jonathon-and-David way that is so appealing. Quite unlooked-for, I get to play with this concept in Anon, Sir, Anon:

“‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last,’” Farnham said, not bothering to answer the unspoken question. It appeared to Genevieve that her uncle stared rather hard at his friend as if encouraging him to find some extra meaning in the words.
“Oh Lud.” Dr. Breen pushed his chair away from the table and crossed his legs, resting rough boots on the white tablecloth. He stretched his arms behind his head and grinned in an amiable way. “I know this one. I know I know this one.”

Doctor Breen and Mr. Orville Farnham have been friends since antiquity. When Vivi arrives at Whistlecreig, she is immediately swept into a bachelor-world that has been going on forever; a world with its own customs, phraseology, games, and traditions. There's a butler (Allen), there is Dr. Breen, (a seasoned, charming Scotsman), and there is Sir Toby Belch, the bloodhound. (Anecdotally, all the men refer to the hound as "Belch," which Vivi finds vulgar.) It is a great pleasure to write them and to find that I couldn't tell the story without Breen's help.

Breen put up a hand. “Didn’t mean to sound so rough, I’m sorry. But I am curious. I’ve been trying to get Farnham to have an indoor companion all these years--even a bird would do!--he’s always refused flat-down and now  he’s gone and got himself a...a woman!”
          “A niece, Breen. A niece!” Farnham hissed, glancing around as if he feared some slight on his reputation would leak out of the house and into the papers. “And she’s not company, she’s...” He looked her over. “Well, she’s medicine.”
Farnham is a confirmed bachelor with a sensitive soul; really, he's almost more of a woman than Vivi when it comes down to taking offense and needing his space. He's not at all easy to get along with, though he is generally painstakingly polite. Breen steps in where Farnham fails and plays chivalric country doctor with ease. He is my favorite man in the book so far, probably because he knows how to make tea:
     It was a pleasant thing to see an active man making tea; his manner was not at all coaxing as a woman’s would be: he commanded the accoutrements to do his bidding and biscuit and sugar-cube bent to his will, finding homes in a Bakelite ashtray and an overturned turtle shell. He spooned tea-leaves into the bobber and plunked it in a pock-marked, ceramic pot into which he poured the contents of the steaming kettle. A can of sardines was ripped open with the compunction of a polar-bear scenting a seal and from some obscure cabinet in the corner, Dr. Breen produced half a fruit-cake.
I quite love him. Also, he is the one who manages to smooth Vivi's feathers and make himself pleasant when the manliness of Whistlecreig and its inhabitants wear upon the nerves. Breen is, I imagine, the sort who. while being essentially masculine, is a thorough gentleman. He has the charm of an Irishman with the wits of a Scot and the placidness of a Brit.
 . Farnham had never been quite sure why Breen was such a universal favorite--probably something to do with his hair. People liked men with hair.
There is rather a funny reason Farnham is a detective at all, and Breen was in on it. Breen is Farnham's personal doctor as well as oldest friend. They went to University together and now live two and a half miles apart. Breen makes his home and practice at a suite of apartments above Mrs. Froggle's staircase that they have somehow dubbed "The Quagmire" (no one has told me why), and it is his particular pleasure to host people there in the evening. For all this cozy posing, under the urbane bedside manner, Dr. Breen is a man with a deep sense of loyalty and compassion...quite the perfect alka-seltzer to Farnham's caustic temperament. He doesn't excuse his friend's more bitter nature, but he does make allowances for poor health (the bang ulcers) and sees into his loneliness with quick and silent insight. In addition, Breen is the bridge between Farnham and the police because Farnham has no authority as an amateur and his friend, by virtue of being the village doctor, is given the special privilege of getting to attend all the murder scenes. Farnham probably uses the friendship sometimes, but there is an old, unspoken bond between the two that makes sitting about for an hour of silence with a pipe rather a common and pleasant affair. They don't have to talk. They are as close (closer, perhaps) than two brothers and entirely at ease alternately insulting and building-up the other's reputation. I just really really love this man.
“She’ll not be used to our ways. Dead bodies are part of my trade and you stagger down stage-murders thrice a week but Vivi...she’s not used to it. Be kind, blast you. Be kind.”


Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Oh, my, I think he's fantastic already and I haven't even read the book yet. :)

For whatever reason, I'm often drawn to writing about brothers or male friends who are like brothers—I've never known exactly why, except that it seems an intriguing relationship. I like the way you've described it—you often manage to articulate things that I think but can't pin down in words.

Rachel Heffington said...

Elisabeth: this is what our little literary-blogging community is for, I think. Jenny says things I can't formulate into words, I say things you can't, you say things someone else can't...we beg, borrow, steal, and succeed. A merry, thieving band. ^.^

Rachel Rossano said...

Oh, I can't wait to read this one! :) I love brotherly-friendships between men. I have a feeling you are going to enjoy Dentin and Tomas in Honor. They are constantly amazing me with the way they interact, support and probe each other.

Julia said...

OH MY GOODNESS I can't wait to read this one. I already liked the Anon snippets I was seeing but I didn't know there was murder mysteries in it .... just please hurry up and write it!! :D The characters already have me mesmerized! :)

Jewels ;)

Abbey Stellingwerff said...

I love reading friendship stories between men. I think they're my favorite kinds. Another good example is Holmes and Watson.
Reading these snippets and hearing about this story is real fun (and I LOVE the dog's name! Genius).
By the way, I'm Abbey... I found you from Jack's blog and was tickled by your clever and witty posts.

Rachel Heffington said...

Thanks to everyone for liking Breen. ;)
Abbey, so pleased to meet you! I am so glad we have "met" now...we have such larks around here. Welcome, and make yourself quite at home. We don't stand upon ceremony at The Inkpen Authoress.

Jenny Freitag said...

These snippets are absolutely beautiful, darling - I love them. You seem to have sunk your teeth into this friendship and are worrying it about happily like a dog that has got the carcase of a hare. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the friendship between Breen and Farnham on paper, so do hurry up and finish writing the book and publish it, too.

...I have other things to say, but perhaps they should wait for a letter to save spoilering on Talldogs. All this waiting - !

Rachel Heffington said...

Jenny: I am moving along at a nice trot with the book so hopefully it might possibly (donottempttheevileye) be publishable in the autumn? (I subject my books to rounds and rounds of editing) At any rate, I hope you will like Breen & Farnham. I love them.
As to the letter, you ought to get one from me today or tomorrow so NO SPOILERS.

Jenny Freitag said...

A-a-and guess what just came in the mail.