Maya Bohnhoff on Writing Mary: a Shadow Conspiracy Confession

The Shadow ConspiracyBack when we released the first of our Shadow Conspiracy anthologies, we ran a spoof April Fool’s Day sendup, Zombie View News. It included a blurb about my genesis story, “The Accumulating Man” . It read, in part:

“I have to come clean,” said Bohnhoff, “I didn’t make up a word of  the story. It’s all true. I acquired Mary Shelley’s missing journal while we were in the UK two years ago. It was sheer kismet. I picked up a first edition copy of John Polidori’s VAMPIRE in a used bookstore in London and inside was this smaller, handwritten booklet. It turned out to be the missing pages from Mary’s diaries and it contained her first-hand account of that spring in Geneva at the villa owned by Lord Byron.” Bohnhoff apologizes to readers for the deception. “I couldn’t help myself. I mean, when a story like that falls into your lap, you gotta go with it.”

Okay, all kidding aside, I’m sure readers realized that I did, indeed, write “Accumulating Man.” The story didn’t fall into my lap, but the opportunity to tell it did. When my cohorts at BVC came up with the idea of doing a steampunk anthology involving Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, I just happened to have, tucked away in my I-really-wanna-write-this file, a synopsis of a story about Mary Shelley and the fateful spring in Geneva when Frankenstein was conceived (as it were).
My writing collaborator at the time, Michael Reaves, had gotten me thinking about monsters in general and Frankenstein’s “monster” in particular, but being me, I got caught up in the human aspects of what might have inspired Mary Shelley to write the story instead of the monstery aspects of her book.

The Vampire by John PolidoriI posited that she met someone who had a disease that so warped them physically that they became lumbering and monstrous. I found the perfect disease—the little-known and mysterious Noel’s disease—so named for the man who first described it. I cast Byron’s friend and physician, John Polidori, as that breed of scientist so in enamored of curiosity for its own sake that he gave little or no thought to the human victim of the disease. Rather, he my Polidori would be keenly interested in discovery and possibly renown. I posited that the young man afflicted with Noel’s disease would become, instead of a patient, an object of study, a lab rat, someone Polidori had no desire to heal, but merely study and experiment on.

Of course, Mary wouldn’t realize this when she first introduced the two men. She would think she was helping her new friend Immanuel to a better life.

I wanted to explore the real meaning of “monstrous” and provide a reason for Mary Shelley to feel so passionate about the possible abuses of science disconnected from human virtue and empathy.

When the idea of a steampunk anthology arose, I at first thought I had nothing to contribute. I knew next to nothing about Ada Lovelace. But then I saw the names Shelley and Byron and Polidori coming up in the discussions in our group forum and realized that my story idea was very much linked thematically and historically to the idea for the book and that by adding some slightly more fantastic or science fictional elements to the story—to make it more literally about the creation of a monster—it would fit into the arc of the Shadow Conspiracy as a sort of prologue or origin story.

Working with other writers to get a sense of where their stories were going, especially Igor (Steven Harper) and Phyl (Phyllis Irene Radford), I wrote a thumbnail sketch of the idea, then re-crafted the synopsis. Phyl thought it would be cool if I did something with Mary Shelley’s lady’s maid, Elise, a character she was going to feature in her story. Igor asked that a certain piece of equipment be destroyed at the end of my story. Other writers on the project asked that the end of “Accumulating Man” be ambiguous. (Piece of cake—I LOVE ambiguity.)

I found Mary Shelley’s voice natural and fun to write, possibly because I cut my teeth on 19th century literature (I’m a huge Austen, Poe and Conan-Doyle fan). I have to say, writing the story was one of the most rewarding writing experiences I’ve had in terms of sheer enjoyment and satisfaction with the finished piece. Naturally, I’d like you all to read it, so drop by the Book View Café eBookstore or Amazon’s Kindle store and pick up a copy if you don’t already have one.

And, if you’re a mystery-crime fan, please check out my most recent novel, THE ANTIQUITIES HUNTER—a Gina Miyoko Mystery, in hardback and eBook from Pegasus Crime.

Visit Maya’s Bookshelf.



Maya Bohnhoff on Writing Mary: a Shadow Conspiracy Confession — 1 Comment

  1. That story set up the rest of the shared world in the anthology beautifully!

    Mary and Immanuel also show up in other stories. And Elise, ah my lovely Elise, has her own BOOK. “The Transference Engine,” by Julia Verne St. John, from DAW Books.