At the heart of most fantasy novels is the quest. The quest to destroy evil and restore order to the universe. Whether it’s to a pseudo medieval world, or a modern city, the theme is the same. What makes this story so powerful and enduring? From the ancient Greek myths to the latest mass market paperback featuring a vampire detective, the answer is simple. It’s a fairy tale in its purest form. Good triumphs over evil. Unlike real life, where evil frequently goes unpunished, and good often loses.
That’s the six o’clock news; corrupt politicians, flawed religious leaders, corporations with seemingly no morality. In hundreds of different ways, every day, we’re told that life isn’t fair. But in Fantasy novels it is. It may be a long road, filled with dragons, evil sorcerers, witches, barbarians, demons, and magic spells, but eventually good wins and evil loses. Like the fairy tales that were read to us as children, it all ends happily ever after. And there’s something very wonderful about that.
Speaking of fantasy, my two humorous fantasy novels, And Don’t Forget To Rescue The Princess, and the next one in the series, And Don’t Forget To Rescue The OTHER Princess, have just gotten brand new, beautiful covers! Each book is a separate adventure and can be read in any order.
Both of these novels are available as ebooks from the Amazon Kindle store. >> Click here.
Many years ago, the great George Carlin did a wonderful piece about euphemisms for death. Words and phrases that people use because they can’t deal with actually saying the real words. So instead of saying, “He died,” people will say, “He passed away.”
I was reminded of this recently, when I noticed a few new euphemisms that appeared after Carlin himself bought the farm. You know, bit the big one. The first is the word “passed.” For years, people referred to dying as passing away; now it’s been shortened from two words to one. So, your uncle hasn’t passed away, he’s just “passed.” Previous to this new usage the word passed was something you did to a football or a kidney stone. But we live in an age where passing away is way too much to say. As are the words, air conditioner. That’s been reduced to an A.C. As in, turn on the AC while I get a PB and J. (That’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for those without access to a ten year old.)
Here’s another euphemism I just saw in a commercial for insurance. We see a man, woman and two small children. The camera zooms onto the man as a very serious voice says, “What would your family do if SOMETHING happened to you?” They don’t say what that something might be. It could be that you gained 400 hundred pounds. That would be something. Or that you put on a moose costume and went to live in the woods. That would really be something. The commercial never mentions the word death or dying. That’s too much for people to deal with. But SOMETHING happening? That everyone can handle.
Another commercial (maybe I’m watching too much TV) shows a bunch of people sitting around looking unhappy. The voice over announcer (he never seems to show up in person, in fact he probably passed) says: “Need money for final expenses?” Since he never says what “final expenses” are, it’s left up to the viewer to figure out. It could be a restaurant check, credit card bill, or divorce settlement. (But enough about my problems.) The word “funeral” is, after all, so crass, so crude, so descriptively specific.
My favorite new death euphemism is one I heard on yet another commercial, this one on the radio. After you’ve paid your final expenses, you can buy some property at the memorial park. Keep in mind, it’s not a graveyard or cemetery; those places are dark and creepy. They’re not happy and pleasant, like a memorial park. At a cemetery all you have are dead people, however, at a memorial park there are picnics, concerts, and baseball games. Cemeteries are depressing, memorial parks are fun.
Well, that’s it for me. I hope this little essay will be remembered when I keel over, push up daisies (I’d rather push up petunias) and go off to that big writer’s room in the sky.
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This essay originally appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, summer 2016 issue. Contributors were asked to write about how New York City has inspired their fiction.
If someone is looking for inspiration to write mystery or crime fiction, New York City is a very good place to find it. It’s almost impossible to live in the city and not at some point be the victim of a crime, witness a crime, or hear about a crime that happened to someone you know. Then of course, there is also the daily barrage of news reports about street crime, white collar crime, and let’s not leave out all the juicy political corruption both financial and sexual. To watch the local TV news, listen to the radio, or read a newspaper is to see dozens of potential short stories and novel ideas thrown at your feet every day, like gold dust just waiting to be sifted through. This is the environment I grew up and lived in for much of my life. (Not including time spent in other parts of the country that had so little crime I was astounded by the peace and tranquility that local residents were forced to endure).
I’d like to tell you about the New York inspirations for two of my published mystery stories. The first is called, “You See But You Forget”, which originally appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. The story came about as the result of local news reports about the horrible conditions in buildings in some very poor neighborhoods in New York. Unfortunately, these reports are all too common. There are numerous tenement buildings owned by slumlords that subject their tenants to the most horrible conditions imaginable; chipping paint (sometimes containing lead), leaking pipes, no hot water, insects, rodents and often, in the middle of winter, no heat.
The last one got me thinking. (I do that sometimes). What if someone froze to death in one of those buildings? What if the victim was a much-loved older woman? What if her neighbor is a young man who finds her dead and is heartbroken about it? And what if he’s also angry and decides to, uh, let’s say, do something about it?
Curiously, the title of this story was also taken from a TV news report about another impoverished drug- and crime-infested neighborhood, but here the focus was on the high murder rate. A TV reporter asked a resident if he was a witness to any of these street crimes. The resident smiled then very calmly explained the credo of the neighborhood. In one sentence he recounted the mantra of how the scared and defenseless innocent citizens endured daily assaults, robberies, and murders, yet managed to stay alive, and protect themselves and their families. In a single line, he revealed how one avoided the deadly retaliation that comes to those who talk about what they have witnessed. He stated the chilling code of silence that they all lived with every day. “Yes,” he said to the reporter, “you see, but you forget.”
In sharp contrast, my other story could not be more different in setting and socio-economics. “The Bet,” (which also ran in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine), is about two very wealthy Wall Street businessmen. One is in his early thirties and the other is in his mid-eighties. The story opens in a private club. The room our two main characters are in is a wood paneled one, where men in three-piece suits sit on leather winged back chairs that rest on antique rugs and read newspapers, not on their phones, but the old-fashioned way, on paper. The lighting is subdued, the air is heavy, and if people speak at all, it is in hushed tones. It’s in this world that the two men make a bet involving vast amounts of money and a violent crime.
I have been to a number of these real-life clubs (as a guest of course, so don’t ask me for a loan). I have also met men of this caliber. One such club I’ve visited is the National Arts Club on Grammercy Park. This club overlooks a tiny park surrounded by a tall wrought iron gate. The park is so private that, until recently only a few nearby homeowners and privileged residents were permitted to enter it. To do so required being in possession of a key, of which only 383 copies existed.
What was I doing at the National Arts Club? At one time it was where the local chapter of The Mystery Writers Of America met. I remember the first time I entered that beautiful and historic building many years ago. It was like being transported back in time to the Gilded Age. A place right out of Henry James, with elegant mirrors, marble fireplaces, antique porcelain vases, crystal chandeliers, high ceilings and opulently framed paintings of distinguished club members (a number of whom were former US presidents) dating back over a hundred years. My first thought was, I wonder if anyone has ever been murdered here? Writers, you can’t take them anywhere.
Marc Bilgrey has written numerous mystery and fantasy stories short stories that have been published in anthologies by Ace, DAW, Avon, Simon and Schuster and others. His mystery short stories appear regularly in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. He is the author of two fantasy novels that were originally published by Five Star Books, now available as ebooks from Amazon Kindle. He is currently writing a mystery novel that is set in New York. His website is www.marcbilgrey.com.