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michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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How I Came to Write This Book

This book was born during a conference with an intellectual property lawyer on a particular afternoon in November of 2003. When I say born, I mean nearly the whole plot popped into my head and I actually spun it out as a narrative, really as an extended hypothetical in reference to the reason I was sitting in the lawyer’s office in the first place. The issue at hand, which I won’t get into, was essentially about the value of a oral anecdote with respect to a work of fiction based on same. For example, a guy in a bar tells you a story, and then you write a work of fiction about it, and the guy in the bar comes back at you after the book’s been published and says, in effect, that’s my story, all you did was put it into words, so I want to get credit as a collaborator, you can’t claim to have written the book (“our” book) all by yourself.


So the intellectual property lawyer asks me about the various circumstances involved, and I tell him, and he says that the anecdote guy has a point and might be able to sue me. I might win such a suit, he said, but it would cost a bundle to defend it.


I could not believe this. I said, wait, suppose I’m in your office and I tell you a story, any story, let’s say . . .it’s about an English professor who finds a manuscript of an unknown Shakespeare play...


And off I went, and as I spoke, there boiled up, in a manner that will be familiar to many writers, characters and twists, and subplots and the underlying theme of the novel, which was what happens when ideas in a writer’s mind get converted into intellectual property that people can fight about.


So why Shakespeare? Because he’s the essence of mystery. Because in the modern history of the world there’s no literary figure of remotely comparable magnitude for whom we have less biographical information: the greatest single figure writing in our language, and he’s smoke. Because he flourished in a world without copyright laws. Because I had just read a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, and started to imagine what Shakespeare might have made of her, a Shakespearian tragic heroine if ever there was one, and then I started to imagine a situation where he might’ve written such a play, and then I asked why he would’ve bothered since such a work could never be performed, given the religious politics of the time. So there had to be a reason he wrote this lost play, and hid it away, maybe there was a plot to get him into trouble, and a set of letters, yes, coded, letters, that both explained the plot and provided clues to where the precious manuscript was hidden. And the people who found these letters would be a strange pair, a man and a woman, and the hero would be . . . I thought, looking at the guy I was talking to, an intellectual property lawyer!


When the intellectual property lawyer told me his bad news, therefore, I was not as annoyed as I might have been, because I had the plot of my next novel as a gift fully formed. Honestly, it was like reading a thought balloon hanging over my own head. I love it when that happens -- all I had to do was type it out. Not really, but there was an important lesson here, too, which is that there’s no point in crying over intellectual property lost. Just make up some more.



-Michael Gruber

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Bastet
Posts: 39
Registered: ‎12-12-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Hi Mr. Gruber~

First off, I will say that I absolutely loved this book. Not only did I find the storyline completely unique and engaging, but the characters were very real and honest ... well, as honest as most are anyway. =) I am excited to discuss more with you about several of the amazing elements in your novel, especially the Bracegirdle letters, and learning more about how you undertook such a fantastic novel.

Thanks!
Rachel
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michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Thanks. One of the problems with historical fiction generally is that writers typically make their historical characters contemporary people in fancy dress, and I was determined not to do that with Mr Bracegirdle. It's hard to really grasp that the minds of people in the 17th century were quite different from out own, and it's a mark of Shakespeare's genius that he could, in a sense, transcend his time and place and write in a way that still speaks to us. One of the elements in Sh. that's hardest to handle, however, is his belief that social class produces a different kind of person. Anyone in Sh. who is not a noble is a clown, for example. But despite that, he makes common people real enough to move our sympathies, and in this he's unique in his time.
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Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book



michaelgruber wrote:
One of the problems with historical fiction generally is that writers typically make their historical characters contemporary people in fancy dress, and I was determined not to do that with Mr Bracegirdle. It's hard to really grasp that the minds of people in the 17th century were quite different from out own, ...



I am always impressed when an author is able to write a dialect or historical speech pattern for one of his characters. Consequently, I was doubly impressed when reading the letter by Bracegirdle. What process did you use to create the speech pattern and word spelling in this letter?

Also, I must ask about the name Bracegirdle. I have discovered that it was a real English surname from the 17th and 18th centuries. Was there any reason you chose this name in particular?
Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
Posts: 2,613
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Laura,

Excellent question. I was wondering the same things about how Michael captured Bracegirdle's language in his letters.
Stephanie
Author
michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Essentially, I did a lot of reading. I read historical accounts of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean period to gain an understanding of the mind-set of that time, which was quite different from our own. For example, in that age, the notion that people were individuals with no responsibility other than to develop their own capacities to the fullest would have seemed insane. Everyone was a part of some larger grouping--a court, a guild, a household. Shakespeare himself was a member of a household, first of the Lord Chamberlain and then of the King. He wore livery like a butler or a footman. People who were not so embedded were called rogues or vagabonds and were subject to arrest and abuse.
Also, every one and everything had a place on a great chain of being, from a stone to God, which place was ordained by God Himself. People could rise, of course, as Shakespeare himself did, but this was unusual and suspect and one of the master plots of the era was rise and fall. The vast majority did exactly what their parents had done.
And they were really serious about religion. There were atheists, like Marlowe, but they were considered the next thing to insane.

The other sort of reading I did was in works of the period, essays, letters, diaries, and so on to get a sense of how they expressed themselves, the tone and rhythm of their speech, and of course the plays are good sources of this too. As far as spelling and punctuation go, there were no rules at all--people simply invented spelling on a more or less phonetic and conventional basis and punctuated as they saw fit. Strangely enough, they seemed to get their message across.

Bracegirdle is certainly a real name. I can't recall how I picked it--maybe something I read,
Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
Posts: 2,613
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Michael,

Thanks so much - this is all fascinating to me. To think that in the not-so-distant past 99.9% of today's Americans would be considered insane... makes you pause, doesn't it?

I wonder how it came about that we've become so rigid in our spelling, grammar and punctuation? I will admit to being one of those who prefers it done the "correct" way. And yet, you're right, we certainly have no trouble understanding Bracegirdle - the message does indeed come across.

My next question then is about your writing in general- do you create an outline beforehand - is the whole storyline in your head before you begin? Or do you find things out as you go along?
Stephanie
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GypsyWriter
Posts: 6
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Mr. Gruber--

Do you ever get "lost" in all the research? Do you ever start researching one story or plotline, and suddenly find yourself with a dozen different ideas that you want to pursue? Also, has "ciphertext" always been an interest of yours, or is it something you stumbled on while researching this book?

Thanks,
Barb
Author
michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

I used to outline the plot, but now I just spin it out as it comes. Occasionally, toward the end, I'll write the final chapters in outline so I know that all the set-ups have paid off and that I won't leave themes dangling. I can do this pretty well because I've written 21 novels.
Author
michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

I'm usually pretty focused on the current story. I start with a list of basic texts and then if I need anything else I use the references in the texts or the internet. The New York Public Library was helpful in this book too.

I knew almost nothing about ciphers before I started Air & Shadows. I was fortunate to find a fellow through the Internet, a cipher hobbyist, who gave me some useful advice, but all the rest was just garnered in research.
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Fozzie
Posts: 2,404
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: 21 Novels?



michaelgruber wrote:
I can do this pretty well because I've written 21 novels.



21?! I find five, but not 21. Are some unpublished? Or written under another name?
Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Inspired Wordsmith
Stephanie
Posts: 2,613
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: How I Came to Write This Book

Michael,

I love that the novels just come out - I think that's an art- not merely practice, as you imply! :smileyhappy:

Twenty-one novels! Do you have a favorite?
Stephanie
Author
michaelgruber
Posts: 13
Registered: ‎04-18-2007
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Re: 21 Novels?

I ghosted the first 15 novels in the Butch Karp & Marlene series for Robert K. Tanenbaum, and I have one novel in press, which makes 21 in all.
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