The Friendship of Mortals

The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #1

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

First up, The Friendship of Mortals.

Herbert West can revivify the dead – after a fashion. Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn agrees to help him, compromising his principles and his romance with Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine. West’s experiments become increasingly risky, but when he prepares to cross the ultimate border, only Charles can save his life – if his conscience lets him.

The novel was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West, Reanimator.” Don’t ask me why. Something about the premise (scientific reanimation of the dead), the setting (HPL’s fictional Miskatonic University), and the nameless narrator kept niggling at me. I wanted to create something using those elements, with a few of my own added. I gave the narrator a name (Charles Milburn) and a profession (cataloguer at the Miskatonic University Library). In November 2000, those sparks turned into a blaze.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3


Alma lived in a curious little apartment at the top of a house on French Hill Street. Although only a short distance from Arkham’s best neighbourhoods, the area was showing signs of decline. Many of the houses had been turned into apartment buildings. Paint had faded and peeled, and efforts to conceal small blights such as ash cans and laundry lines were flagging. It was as though the waterfront slum to the north had thrown out a tentacle and induced a subtle decay.

Alma’s place was furnished in a style which could be described only as eclectic, but the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. No less so was Alma herself, wearing a kind of smock over her skirt and blouse, her hair tied back with a ribbon.

She motioned me to a cushion-laden sofa and went to make tea while I admired the way she had accommodated the comforts of life in the small space at her disposal. Her home resembled a ship’s cabin, afloat on the sea of leaves visible through the windows.

Once she had furnished me with a cup of tea fragrant with honey, Alma lost no time in pressing me for more details about my dinner with Herbert West.

“What did he want from you, anyway?”

“What makes you so sure he wanted something? Besides someone to share a meal with, I mean. He’d just finished exams, he said, and wanted to celebrate.”

“Hmm. From what I know of Mr. West he is not usually given to such spontaneous conviviality.”

“He didn’t seem to want anything much, really, just to talk about… well, his studies and that sort of thing.”

Alma looked unconvinced. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s softening you up for something.”

“What do you have against Herbert West, anyway?” I asked. “It was quite plain to me from the moment we met him at the concert that you don’t care for him.”

“You’re quite right there. I don’t like him. I think he’s unscrupulous and devious. And a real manipulator. Look at the effect he’s had on you, for example.”

“What effect?”

“Well, I think you’re quite impressed. I do admit he is very attractive. But make no mistake, he’s entirely self-centred. And cold as ice.”

I was beginning to think that Alma’s aversion to West was rooted in nothing more than some sort of romantic connection gone wrong. She quickly dispelled this notion, however.

“Oh, don’t think I dislike him because he rejected my charms, or something silly like that. He’s not my type, for one thing. I’ve had very little to do with him, but I’ve heard quite a lot, from Papa and others at the Med. School.”

“So what is it you’ve heard?” I asked.

She looked serious. “That’s why I asked you here, actually, Charles. To tell you what I know about Herbert West so you have something to counterbalance your romantic notions. Because I still think he sought you out with some purpose in mind.”

“Sought me out? But he just happened to be at that concert – ”

“Never mind all that. Just listen.”

I listened.

Herbert West had gained admission to the Miskatonic University Medical School some three years previously, Alma said, having first obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. In short order he began to make a nuisance of himself by proposing wild theories about the reversibility of death, and worse, carrying out bizarre and unauthorized experiments on animals in the Medical School’s laboratories. It was this latter habit that had caused the college authorities to step in and threaten to restrict his laboratory privileges.

“Why?” I interjected. “Was he breaking the law – stealing people’s pet dogs and cats, for example?”

“Well, no,” Alma answered, “but there was something undisciplined and unstructured about his carryings on. They weren’t part of a program of rational study, which is what first and second year medical students are supposed to be engaged in. They aren’t expected to do original research at that stage, for God’s sake.”

I reflected that for whosever sake West did his experiments, it wasn’t God’s. Aloud I said,

“It sounds to me as though they were out of their depth with him. Did it ever occur to anyone that he might be the medical equivalent of a prodigy? Like that young fellow we heard playing the violin the other night.”

“Oh Charles,” Alma said, shaking her head, “it’s quite obvious that West did a good job of impressing you. I’m probably wasting my breath. But he didn’t stop at cats and dogs, however legitimately acquired.

“He got a dead human body from somewhere. Probably one of his father’s mortuaries. This would have been the fall before last – October or thereabouts. He’d been told to stop his animal experiments by a certain date, or else. So I guess he got desperate and decided to try a human being.” She shook her head again. “Such a waste of his talents. Papa says he’s really very competent at his normal studies.”

I refrained from pointing out that this could be another indication that the good professor-doctors of the Medical School simply didn’t know what to do with the cuckoo in their nest.

“Anyway,” Alma continued, “he got this corpse into the lab somehow, late at night, of course. He’d bribed the night watchman not to report him. First and second year students aren’t allowed into the labs at night, you see.”

West had also smuggled into the lab some sort of apparatus which he had connected to the corpse. He was engaged in pumping a fluid into it when he was discovered.

“It was bizarre and horrible to see, apparently,” said Alma. “It looked as though he’d had an accident with the equipment. A tube had burst, or something. When Papa and Dr. Hobson got there the place looked like a slaughterhouse – blood everywhere – the ‘patient’s’ blood, of course, and all over West too. There he was, blood all over that pretty face of his, but cool as can be, and laughing! That’s what really bothered them.”

I nearly laughed myself, realizing that this description of the scene neither surprised nor shocked me. In fact, it was exactly what I would have expected of the Herbert West I had begun to know. I wondered what had prompted his laughter. The experiment had failed, of course, so it must have been ironic amusement at the outrage of those whom he believed to be willfully ignorant.

“How did your father happen to know that West was in the laboratory that night?” I asked.

She looked uneasy. “I think someone tipped him off. Another student, maybe.” She didn’t go so far as to suggest that West had been watched, but I remembered what he had said about betrayal.

“Anyway, the next day Papa called West on the carpet and told him he had one chance to redeem himself. And he was forbidden to use any laboratory at the Medical School except under close supervision, for his course work only, for the remainder of the year.” She paused. “That seems pretty lenient to me, considering that he was already under threat of suspension. I wouldn’t be surprised if West senior weighed in with the senior college administration to smooth things over for his boy.”

“Yes, what about Hiram West?” I asked. “His son seemed rather ambivalent about him.”

“Really? A point in his favour, there. Hiram’s a typical businessman, in most ways. Into every kind of enterprise, and filthy rich. But none too scrupulous, if what I’ve heard is true. The thing is, he’s the sort of person that could be persuaded to be a major benefactor of Miskatonic. So it’s not really in the interests of the college to discipline his son too harshly. And in your case it’s another reason to be careful.”

“I hardly think I’ll ever pose any threat to Hiram West,” I said. “Really, Alma, you’re taking all this much too seriously. I admit I find West a rather interesting type, but our paths aren’t likely to cross very often, after all.”

“I hope not, for your sake. I have a bad feeling about that young man.”

“And this young man?” I asked, feeling suddenly playful. “What sort of feeling do you have about him?”

She regarded me with her head tilted to one side, a little smile on her lips. “Oh, I think he’s a very nice young man. I quite enjoy his company. Seriously, Charles, I do. I’m glad you came to Miskatonic.”

We went on then to talk about other things, including Alma’s ideas about the ‘new woman.’ She felt very strongly that young women should be encouraged to leave their parents’ homes and support themselves for a while before they married.

“Otherwise the poor things are perfectly helpless, aside from housekeeping and looking after children. And so dull, too.”

“You are surely an example of the other kind of woman, then, Alma. There’s nothing dull about you.”

“I hope not,” she said, looking pleased.

We parted in this mood of friendly bantering. But walking homeward, I knew that my mind was operating on two levels. On one, I was developing a closeness with Alma that I found pleasing and gratifying. On the other, I was ready to throw myself heart and soul into whatever adventures I could find in the proximity of Herbert West. It was as though I stood in a house looking out through two different windows. From one I saw a warm and sunlit meadow, humming with bees, from the other a black sky blazing with unknown stars.


What readers have said:

  • “Herbert West alarmed, enchanted, and terrified me all at once.”
  • “An extremely clever and skillfully written reimagining of Lovecraft’s episodic Herbert West stories.”
  • “Driscoll weaves a believable and intriguing tale, with sympathetic characters despite their skewed moral compass.”
  • “Wordy but good. I thought I’d never get through it, but it was worth it…even though it sets you up with a cliffhanger at the end!”
  • “It starts off slow and builds and builds and builds until it’s a wild affirmation of life and love.”

The Friendship of Mortals is available from:

Amazon: US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.

Reviews, Interview, and RAEW

The Friendship of Mortals is getting some good attention! Berthold Gambrel wrote an insightful review on his blog, as well as one on Amazon, followed by an interview in which I answer his questions about aspects of the novel. In both, he explores the relationship between my novel and the H.P. Lovecraft story on which it’s based, namely “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

raew 2018 - 2The Friendship of Mortals is widely available in various ebook formats, and in print. The other three books in the Herbert West Series will be discounted during Smashwords’ Read an Ebook Week sale, March 4th to 10th. Info and links here.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Open House Interview with author Audrey Driscoll

I had the chance to participate in Sally Cronin’s Open House today. She provided some interesting questions, and hopefully my answers are interesting as well.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

My guest today on the Open House is supernatural/paranormal author of The Herbert West Series, Audrey Driscoll.

About Audrey Driscoll

I grew up reading books, and became interested in making stories myself. I worked out scenes and bits of dialogue, and made my friends act out little dramas based on my favourite book at the time – Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

With that background, it was inevitable I would become a writer. It just took a while. After establishing a career as a librarian – first at the University of Saskatchewan and then at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia – I had a meaningful encounter with H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West.

Strangely fascinated by HPL’s corpse-reanimating physician and his friend the nameless narrator, I built a set of stories around them. In 2000, I was compelled to write them down. The result was The Friendship of Mortals…

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New Review of The Friendship of Mortals

I would like to share a lovely new review of The Friendship of Mortals, by Denzil the Book Owl, on his recently launched review site. Read it here, and the interview in which I answer several questions about the book and its writing.

fofmresized

While you’re there, have a look at some of Denzil’s other reviews. They are what book reviews should be, thoughtful and thorough.

Now In Print!

The first book of the Herbert West Series, The Friendship of Mortals, is now available in print!

Book 1

Book 1

Arkham, Massachusetts, 1910. Charles Milburn, a cataloguer in the Library of Miskatonic University, meets Herbert West, a medical student with compromised credentials.

Herbert West can restore the dead to life, he says, and he persuades Charles to be his assistant. Their secret experiments achieve success, but with a taint of disaster. Charles finds himself caught between the demands of his fascinating friend and his growing attraction to Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine.

In 1914 West joins the Canadian Army as a medical officer to pursue his grisly research on the battlefields of France. His letters to Charles reveal a disturbing mixture of cynicism and black humour. Left behind in Arkham, Charles catalogues the books of an eccentric professor and develops an interest in alchemy – a process to transform the base into the excellent.

Returning from the War, West becomes a surgeon, utilizing techniques perfected on the maimed, dying …and dead? Rumours of illicit experiments overshadow West’s spectacular public successes. With his career in shambles and showing signs of mental imbalance, West appeals to Charles for help. Charles is sympathetic – until West reveals the details of his plan.

Caught between horror and hope, Charles must draw on his knowledge of alchemy and his tottering faith in powers beyond himself if he is to save his friend’s life. Only his conscience stands in the way.

 

If you’ve always wanted to read this book, but aren’t a fan of ebooks, here’s your chance! Get thee to my Amazon page and enter the adventure.

And if you still don’t have the ebook, you can download it for free!

Morphing into Print

Fourteen years after I started writing it, my first novel. The Friendship of Mortals, is about to appear in print! It has existed as an ebook since 2010, but suddenly the time seemed right to turn it from electronic blips to a physical object. It should manifest on Amazon within the next week.

It’s been a bit of an adventure making the transition. Other authors reassured me that the document formatting would be a snap. If I had successfully negotiated Smashwords’s “meatgrinder,” I would have no trouble at all turning my Word document into something acceptable to the equivalent program at CreateSpace.

Not. It was a struggle of epic proportions.

When you want your Word document to become an ebook, you strip out all kinds of details — page numbers, headers, footers, section breaks, etc. You want the thing to become liquid, so it flows along like a scroll. A Word document destined to become a printed book needs all that stuff, in the right places and combinations. Page numbers go in the footer. There should be two headers, one with the book’s title, the other with the author’s name. They should appear on all pages except those that start a new chapter or other section with its own title; on those pages, you want a page number only. And of course headers, footers and page numbers must be absent from blank pages and front matter (title page, dedication page, contents page, etc.)

About blank pages — in a scroll-like electronic document, they don’t exist. A printed book, however, is printed on paper, and a sheet of paper has two sides. Brainlessly obvious, you say, but this physical reality is hard to envision when you’re looking at your Word document, even after you’ve selected Mirror Margins in Page Setup. In a book, each page has a front and a back (or, as cataloguing librarians and bibliophiles call them, a recto and a verso). Odd-numbered pages are the ones on the right hand side (recto, get it?) and even-numbered pages are on the left. But an even-numbered page is the verso of an odd-numbered one. Getting confused yet? Just wait.

When you’re looking at your document, now with two pages on the screen, odd and even are reversed. The odd-numbered recto page is the one on the left, the even-numbered verso is on the right. You have to think of those two pages as the front and back of a physical piece of paper. That’s why the page numbers appear to be on the wrong side of the page. You want them on the outside corner, but there they are on the inside. Ah, but once that odd-numbered page is on the right side, the page number will be on the outside. So will the even-numbered verso page’s number.

Once this particular light bulb comes on, you can confidently go ahead and divide your 500+ page novel into (in my case) 18 sections, each with its own combination of headers (two of them, remember!) and footers. Oh, and there’s the matter of the difference between odd- and even-numbered section breaks. I’m amazed I have any hair left.

Once I figured out the above, formatting went fairly smoothly, except for Word’s inexplicable tendency to forget some details until reminded of them, firmly, three or four times. I uploaded my document to CreateSpace and was pleasantly surprised when it passed through with only one “issue” noted.

Now I’m just waiting for the final version of my cover. I had professionally designed cover images created for all four of my ebooks earlier this year. The talented Alisha at Damonza.com has now created a print cover for The Friendship of Mortals. It will look like this:

The Friendship of Mortals - Paperback

I can hardly wait for all the components to come together!

Anyone who has missed out on reading The Friendship of Mortals because ebooks aren’t your preference, here’s your chance to remedy that. Look for it on Amazon later this week.

Herbert West, reanimated.

In one of my books of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, (The Tomb and Other Tales, Ballantine edition, 1970) there is a chronological list of HPL’s works, with check marks by the ones I had read.  Notably unmarked is “Herbert West, Reanimator,”  written in 1921-1922.  It was published in a magazine called Home Brew as a series of six horror stories.  In his biography of HPL, L. Sprague De Camp refers to them as “perhaps the most forgettable ” of all Lovecraft’s stories.  Despite this dismissal, I was delighted finally to run across them in 1998.

While it’s true that Herbert West exemplifies some of HPL’s faults as a writer, notably overuse of adjectives such as “hideous” and a coarseness of plotting, I found the story intriguing.  It struck me as an outline for something bigger.  The two main characters, Herbert West and the nameless narrator, begged (in my mind at least) to be fleshed out.

Why would anyone want to reanimate corpses?  Why would anyone remain a close friend of someone who was always looking for really fresh corpses to reanimate, even to the point of creating them by means of murder?

This is the question about any “mad scientist.”  Is he evil or merely mad?  Is his friend stupid and credulous or simply loyal?

In the fall of 2000, two years after I read Lovecraft’s story, I began to answer these questions about Herbert West. I ended up several years later with a hefty trilogy. of which I am about to publish the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, as an ebook.  By the time I post here again, it should be available on Smashwords.com,  technology permitting.