Friday, April 8, 2016

"A Lady in the Smoke"

Karen Odden received her PhD in English literature from New York University. She has contributed essays and chapters to books and journals, including Studies in the Novel, Journal of Victorian Culture, and Victorian Crime, Madness, and Sensation; and has written introductions for books by Dickens and Trollope. She has worked as an editorial assistant at McGraw-Hill, as a media buyer for Christie’s Auction House, and as a bartender at the airport in Rochester, where she learned how to mix a mean martini. She currently serves as an assistant editor for the academic journal Victorian Literature and Culture and resides in Arizona with her husband, two children, and a ridiculously cute beagle named Rosy.

Odden applied the Page 69 Test to A Lady in the Smoke, her first novel, and reported the following:
Because A Lady in the Smoke is an e-book, page 69 could be anywhere. But my editor printed out a few copies and bound them for my own bookshelf; and in this printed version, page 69 (a half-page, really) comes at the very end of chapter 7:
“Where are you staying tonight?” Mr. Wilcox asked.

Jeremy jerked his head. “Miz Smith’s boardin’ouse over that way. ‘Taint far. We’re going to Malverton tomorrow early wi’ Mr. Blackstone. ‘E’s bringin’ one of those men with his machine for pi’tures, in case it’s wot ‘e ‘spects.”

Malverton again.

My ears pricked up, and I fiddled with my glove to hide my interest.

Were the pictures to be the “tangible proof” that Tom needed? And proof of what?

I hoped they’d keep talking about it, but all Mr. Wilcox said was, “All right, then. I’ll be in my room later, if Tom needs me.”

Jeremy made a faint gesture of pulling his cap at us and headed off down the street, his hands buried in his pockets, looking rather like a small version of Mr. Flynn. At any other time, it might have made me smile. But the dark that lurked at the edge of the lantern’s arc felt ominous. I glanced sideways at Mr. Wilcox, and his face bore an expression I was coming to know. The lantern might be pushing away the black of night, but it was doing nothing to hold his dark thoughts at bay.
I was surprised to find that page 69 is, in fact, both a pivotal point and representative of the novel in a few ways. First, I tried to make sure that the characters have distinctive voices and relationships separate from my protagonist, Lady Elizabeth. (I have a pet peeve against novels in which secondary characters seem to exist only in relation to the heroine, serving to illuminate or foil her character and/or plot.) The street urchin Jeremy and Paul Wilcox have known each other for years—and I think their familiarity is clear in this passage. Second, Elizabeth is still, at this point in the novel, an observer; but she’s beginning to ask questions, at least to herself. Paul is still, at this point, “Mr. Wilcox” to Elizabeth—but he becomes “Paul” in the next chapter, when she finally asks him why the newspaperman Tom Flynn and Jeremy are investigating this railway crash, and he tells her what they suspect. So it is appropriate that just prior to this turning point, Elizabeth has her own thoughts (in italics, and about Jeremy) and cannot decipher Paul’s, but she is sympathetic to his feelings. And the collaboration that begins in the next chapter is foreshadowed by the way Elizabeth and Paul are linked together inside the lantern’s light as they make their way back to the Travers Inn. (That sounds like rather heavy-handed symbolism—but it was instinctive, not purposeful, when I wrote it!)
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--Marshal Zeringue