Gallery: The Dubious Commode

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2024

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Let's begin with a quick rundown of the images used in this moodboard. That's an illustration of Burford Priory on the top left corner, which actually wasn't the building I was looking for to show everyone exactly which structure got me picturing St. Grimald priory in my head. I had an image of that building for a while and then deleted the damn thing, and now I can't even remember what it's called. Consider my butt self-kicked to kingdom come for dropping the ball.The middle panel shows a cheeky staged Victorian ghost photo, which was all the rage then (love those things to pieces, btw). The upper-right corner panel is of Dickens writing -- unsurprisingly, the nature of an epistolary involves journals and letters, so yeah. Writing. 

The lower right corner panel is a detail of the cover of the book that made me fall madly in love with epistolary fiction, particularly as a vehicle for comedy: Tobias Smollett's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, which I read and studied for one of my English classes. And the lower left corner panel shows a gathering of ladies having tea. I chose this image as a reverential nod to the ladies of the League of Mandrake Fanciers, whom Felicity constantly refers to throughout the series and whom we only get hints about regarding their "activities". In The Dubious Commode, they're blithely referred to as "daughters of Nemesis". I leave it up to the reader to figure out what that means.

My aim when I first started writing The Ghosts of St. Grimald Priory was to approach the epistolary narrative in a way that reflects the more "realistic" entries written by the captain of the ill-fated Demeter in Dracula. In that book, those entries only make up a very short portion of a chapter, but they're succinct and only cover the necessary points the captain needs to make regarding the growing horror and tension aboard the ship. 

The main problem I had when I read all the epistolary novels required by my classes in college was the fact that journal entries and letters ended up turning into standard first person narratives that are, frankly, unrealistic if you were to think about actual diaries and letters. They include detailed dialogue, for instance, and long, expansive, blow-by-blow accounts. I tried to avoid falling into that same trap, which I think I managed to achieve -- by and large. There are still journal entries and letters throughout the series that really stretch things a bit, but I do hope I kept them at a minimum. 

But as I've noted time and again, I love epistolary fiction. I love encouraging readers to connect the dots between what's said and left unsaid, but most especially, I love how well the narrative form works with dry humor, sometimes highlighted when two characters give two different perspectives on the same event. I gave myself a challenge when I first set out to write the first novel in the series, and I'm ecstatic that I'm able to prove to myself that I can do it -- not just in comedy, but in more serious stories (i.e., Primavera). 

And now since I took the time to share images of people who come very, very close to how I imagined Prue, Freddy, and Jonathan to look like in a previous gallery, I figured I'd tackle three more characters for this one. First up, Felicity. The image to the right is of Gemma Whelan as Mrs. Weston in the most recent theatrical adaptation of Emma with Anya Taylor-Joy. She's rather young for the character, but the look and personality are very much in tune with what I had in mind when I first wrote Felicity Smedley, who's supposed to be Prue's polar opposite in temperament yet is completely aligned with Prue when it comes to some of her more secret, darker moments, so to speak. After all, Felicity hobnobs with the ladies of the League of Mandrake Fanciers, and she also sells "special" products alongside more mundane items. It's no surprise Antigonous refers to her as witch-like and that Coombs and Saunders are desperate to be skilled in the arcane like her someday. 

Jeremy Brody is around two years Freddy's junior as I originally wrote him, but in the series, he comes across as significantly younger. And that's because of his past, the cruel treatment he received from his own family, his illiteracy (which Jonathan tries to correct with weekly tutoring). Brody's development lags, but he's incredibly loyal to Freddy and Prue because of the unconditional love they show him -- even follows Freddy without hesitation when Freddy runs away from home to find Prue in the first novel. His journal entries slowly improve with each book in the series, but he'll never get used to punctuation since he tends to write to follow the meandering paths of his thoughts. He'll also continue to mix up a random homonym here and there as well as never get some words spelled correctly ("gohsts", "nekkermancer", "bren", "prury") even though he's able to spell longer and more complex words without trouble. The picture on the left comes pretty close to how I envision him, physically. Even the ill-fitting suit works.

Mr. Headley's a fun character to write, and unsurprisingly, I had a fiction character to look to for inspiration, and that's Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield. Mr. Headley's a perpetual optimist who doesn't let things get to him -- even when insulted and laughed at in his face by Adrian Gaspar's servant and then subsequently shoved off his feet. His ridiculous waistcoats make his character stand out even more -- not so much personality-wise, but also in terms of wealth. Mr. Headley is a perpetual bachelor who loves traveling extensively for business, forever digging around for romantic smut to publish. He also becomes something like a surrogate father to Freddy after the boy is disowned by his parents, advising Freddy on matters of the heart (and body) and Freddy's nature as a young gay man. He's also one of Prue's oldest and closest friends alongside Felicity, and as a trio, they're perfectly matched. 

And as a bonus image, behold the primary inspiration for those "monkey saints"! I love botched restorations. I LOVE THEM. I studied Art History in college and have been working in the art industry as an art framer for a couple of decades now, so visual works will always hold a special place in my heart alongside music and literature. In the series, they were done by some unknown person (possibly previous and long-dead residents of the priory) with zero talent in art but with legitimate intentions. The monkey saints turn into a running gag throughout the series even after Prue replaces them with proper landscape paintings and then portraits added to the mix later. 

This series was an absolute delight writing from start to finish. I've always been one for episodic approaches to series fiction as long as the plots still follow some arc somewhere in the background that helps tie everything together when the final book is complete. For The Dubious Commode, I really didn't have a specific conflict to explore other than what I refer to as "residual subplots" lurking in the shadows, and this time, the attention shifts to Antigonous Bisset's beef with spiritualists, ghosts, and his family. There's also the matter of Brody and his talent in art. 

As noted in a blog post, however, I purposefully made this final book unapologetically upbeat and low angst since the primary source of drama has already been resolved in previous books (Freddy's homosexuality and his parents' resulting disowning of their youngest child -- though Linford remains a loving and accepting older brother). This book is a merry farewell to Prue, Freddy, and the gang. And so I end this with what I'd consider the series' "theme song", which I think is fitting:

The Dubious Commode clocks in at 50K words and is available in e-book (99 cents) and print ($9.00 USD) formats. Go here to the book page for the different online stores for purchase.