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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Three’s Company

“I read the whole thing and I could not stop. Best work of the trilogy, so tight with the right amount of suspense. Lovely twist at the end. So many characters, so many places…”

Those ego-massaging words came from one of my beta readers for Searching for Cunégonde, and needless to say, they were most encouraging and welcome. But do they beg the question?

Answer: no, they don’t. At least not in the original meaning of the phrase, which entered the English language in the 16th century when an anonymous translator rendered Aristotle’s petitio principii as “beg the question.” The Greek philosopher’s actual meaning was closer to “assume the conclusion.” A true example of begging the question (courtesy of Merriam-Webster) is: “If left to themselves, children will naturally do the right thing because people are intrinsically good.” If you think about it, the logic in that assertion is circular. It is basically saying, “A” is true because “A” is true. This is very different from how most people these days use “beg the question.” What they actually mean is to raise or prompt a question. Sorry to get all pedantic, but this is something that has bugged me for a long time for some reason.

To get back to the original point, yes, “best work of the trilogy” does raise a question. Are the three Dallas Green books (Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, Lautaro’s Spear and Searching for Cunégonde) really a trilogy? Since I have more time these days to pore over onomasticons, let us consult the Oxford English Dictionary. First up from the OED, based on references from the 19th century: “Ancient Greek History. A series of three tragedies (originally connected in subject), performed at Athens at the festival of Dionysus.” Secondly, from 17th and 19th-century sources: “Any series or group of three related dramatic or other literary works.” So, yes, my trio of novels appears to qualify as a trilogy.

I actually addressed the question on this blog three years ago. At that time I clarified that the yet-to-be-titled Lautaro’s Spear (which I then jokingly referred to as Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead: Part 2) and still-a-glint-in-my-brain Searching for Cunégonde did indeed qualify as sequels but were not a series. In other words, they are meant to be independent and self-contained, even while all dealing with the overall narrative of Dallas’s life. I then pronounced that those three books plus any more that I might write, apart from the fantasy novels, all belong to a grand “novel sequence” à la Honoré de Balzac and his La Comédie humaine.

By accepting that the three tomes are a trilogy, am I signaling that there will be no more Dallas books? Well, if any other books I write are to be part of my novel sequence, won’t they be technically be Dallas books since they take place in a world where he exists—even if he does not actually make an appearance?

There are two things I can tell you for pretty sure, which may clarify things.

Firstly, I don’t expect the three books to be offered together at any point in a box set in the manner of, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. For one thing, I don’t even know how to go about organizing that, and frankly, I don’t have much interest. I prefer that each book stand on its own independently, even though reading them all will hopefully be a richer experience. Side note: you can actually make a case that The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy since it was written as a continuous single work and was only divided into three books because of the printing-press limitations of its era. Additional side note: I have been known to jokingly refer to Searching for Cunégonde as The Return of the King.

Secondly, at this time I have zero intention of writing any other books in which Dallas is the narrator. I was never keen on having a first-person narrator but convinced myself I had to do it with Max & Carly because I was consciously inspired by the first-person-narrated picaresque nature of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If I had it to do over now, I would probably listen to a certain prescient character in Cunégonde and emulate instead François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, and his novel Candide. But once the first book was written in first person and once I committed to writing one and then two sequels, I was caught. It’s been my own perverse punishment, and only adds to the notion that the books are some kind of roman-à-clef autobiography. So no more.

We may well (or not) learn more of Dallas’s life in other books, but not through his words or point of view. Characters we met through him may turn up in other books but as described by an anonymous narrator. We may get news about him from other characters. He might even turn up in person so that we may see him through someone else’s eyes. We will not, though, be seeing him through his own words.

Unless I change my mind.

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