Stashower, Daniel 1960- (Daniel Meyer Stashower)

views updated

Stashower, Daniel 1960- (Daniel Meyer Stashower)

PERSONAL:

Born September 21, 1960, in Cleveland, OH; son of David L. (an advertising executive) and Sally (an interior designer) Stashower; married; children: two. Education: Attended University of Sussex, 1980-81; Northwestern University, B.A. (with honors), 1982; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1984.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—Donald Maass Literary Agency, 157 W. 57th St., Ste. 703, New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Professional magician, 1974-79; Liggett Stashower Advertising, Inc., Cleveland, OH, advertising copywriter, 1979-84; Time-Life Books, New York City, staff writer, 1984-86; freelance writer, 1986—.

MEMBER:

Society of American Magicians, Society of Psychical Research, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations, Mystery Writers of America, 1986, for The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man; nominee for the Agatha Award for fiction published in 1998, 1999, for "A Deliberate Form of Frenzy"; Edgar Allan Poe Award and Agatha Award, both 2000, for Teller of Tales; Raymond Chandler Fulbright fellowship in Detective and Crime Fiction Writing.

WRITINGS:

The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man (mystery novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.

Elephants in the Distance (mystery novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.

The Dime Museum Murders (novel), Avon Twilight (New York, NY), 1999.

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle (biography), Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

The Floating Lady Murder (novel), Avon Twilight (New York, NY), 2000.

The Houdini Specter (novel), Avon Twilight (New York, NY), 2001.

The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television (nonfiction), Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg and Jon L. Lellenberg) Murder, My Dear Watson: New Tales of Sherlock Holmes, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg and Jon L. Lellenberg) Murder in Baker Street, Robinson (London, England), 2003.

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder (nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg and Jon L. Lellenberg) Ghosts in Baker Street, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with Jon Lellenberg and Charles Foley) Arthur Conan Doyle: His Life in Letters, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to periodicals, including Smithsonian, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Connoisseur, Air and Space, American Scholar, National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post, New Dominion, and Millimeter. Editor of Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose, 1982-84. Contributing editor of "Enchanted World," "Civil War," and "Mysteries of the Unknown" series, published by Time-Life Books.

SIDELIGHTS:

Daniel Stashower has twice been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America—once in 1986 for his novel The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man, and fourteen years later for his biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which went on to win the coveted prize. Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1999, is an "excellent biography of the man who created Sherlock Holmes—and who would like to have been remembered for a great deal more," remarked David Walton in a New York Times Book Review article. "There are countless other ways to remember this teller of tales, so richly portrayed [by Stashower]," praised Smithsonian contributor Emily d'Aulaire. Both reviewers and Stashower point out that, in addition to creating Sherlock Holmes, Doyle was a doctor, sportsman, family man, traveler, and crusader, as well as the author of "historical novels, plays, science fiction, war chronicles, [and] mysteries," listed d'Aulaire, who judged that "Stashower's page-turning biography [richly] portrays the many sides of this complex storyteller in … incredible detail."

In addition to profiling Doyle's personal and social life, "Stashower gives a strong sense of Conan Doyle's commercial acumen as a writer, and of the ways in which this shaped his output," stated a Guardian reviewer. However, Anthony Lejeune's National Review assessment questioned whether the biographer "adequately conveys … the allure of Conan Doyle's earlier books." The Guardian reviewer concluded: "There are undeniably rich materials here, pacily narrated by Stashower, although done scant justice by his carelessness about providing sources. Yet it is difficult to see that [Teller of Tales] adds anything new" to what is has already been written about Doyle. Calling Teller of Tales "a popular biography that will frustrate the scholarly," Seattle Times contributor Adam Woog similarly asserted: "There is little new material, and the book lacks footnotes and complete attributions. Still, Stashower is an amiable guide…. Most importantly, Stashower has an admirably sympathetic attitude toward even the looniest of Sir Arthur's psychic notions."

"The millstone of Doyle's reputation is not any discrepancy between the Holmes stories and Doyle's other writings, but a more glaring discrepancy between the cold logic of Holmes and the beguiled enthusiasms of his creator for what Stashower calls ‘fairies, ghosts and that,’" wrote Walton, recognizing that "most biographers minimize the spiritualist crusade that consumed the last ten years of Doyle's life, attributing it to grief over the death of his son and other close relatives" in World War I. Walton also stated that "Stashower, by contrast, takes that issue, which Doyle considered his life's great work, as his starting point." It is Stashower's attention to Doyle's spiritualism that critics commonly regard as the primary quality that differentiates Teller of Tales from other biographies of Doyle.

"Stashower says he is interested in ideas of the supernatural himself, but an unbeliever," reported Literary Review contributor Jessica Mann. Mann added: "All the more credit to him for giving so well-balanced and generous an account of Doyle's credulity. Several excellent studies of Conan Doyle have appeared before … and none so full and fair as this one. Stashower's very readable account of ‘a life of many adventures’ is an excellent biography of a remarkable man." Bryce Christensen, writing in Booklist, also contended that it is because Stashower pays attention to the occult-fascinated side of Doyle that Teller of Tales stands as "the most complete and balanced portrait to date." According to a Publishers Weekly contributor: "Stashower has done an admirable job … in providing insights into the origins and apparent contradictions of [Doyle's] later beliefs."

While Mann and Christensen's positive assessments of Stashower's accomplishment in focusing on Doyle's spiritualism did not stand alone, they were not consistently echoed. D.J. Taylor concluded in the London Sunday Times, "Teller of Tales is a highly competent recapitulation of most of the known facts about Conan Doyle—possibly a bit too enthusiastic about the spiritualist fixation, which could have been done at half the length. As an attempt to see him in the round, Stashower's study is never less than interesting. And yet, however thoroughly put through his paces, however cunningly introduced to aspects of the modern dressage, you fear that its subject turns out to have been a one-trick pony after all." Although a writer for the Guardian observed that "Stashower vividly retells Conan Doyle's early flirtations with spiritualism," the critic also noted: "What this book lacks is a way of seeing Conan Doyle's obsession as a symptom of his age." Lejeune, in contrast, stated that "Stashower … gives a particularly full account of Conan Doyle's involvement with spiritualism."

Lejeune listed some "minor" faults in "Stashower's well-researched, well-constructed, and well-written biography," the "most inexcusable" of which is that Stashower includes "only a selective, not a complete, bibliography of Conan Doyle's published work." Lejeune concluded: "Because Stashower's approach is more sober and scholarly, he lacks the imaginative fire that illumined John Dickson Carr's fifty-year-old biography." Library Journal contributor Laurel Bliss similarly described Teller of Tales as "solid if somewhat dry," and maintained that Stashower "could be stronger" in his "analysis of his subject." Teller of Tales is "a satisfying biography," contended Len Barcousky, asserting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "Stashower demonstrates that the life of the Holmes' creator was filled with as much drama, suspense, excitement and complication as any fictional adventure."

Departing temporarily from the mystery genre, Stashower took a look at a fascinating yet somewhat obscure period in the evolution of technology with The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television. Although former head of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) David Sarnoff is often credited with heralding in the television age, it was in fact a teenage farm boy turned amateur inventor, Philo Farnsworth, who created the working product. In The Boy Genius and the Mogul, Stashower shares how the hometown inventor and corporate giant jockeyed for marketing control, with RCA ultimately winning out and Sarnoff garnering much of the fame. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented: "Intensive research renders this technological history fascinating even to readers with Luddite tendencies." Susanne Ault remarked in Variety, however, that "Stashower's explanations … bog down" otherwise interesting anecdotes. Writing for Publishers Weekly, a critic took note of Stashower's tendency to end "every chapter with a cliffhanger, which gets monotonous." The reviewer continued: "His flair for storytelling does help move the book along through the necessary passages of technical jargon."

Stashower returned to the world of detectives and murder mysteries with The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. Poe is often credited with inventing the modern-day detective story; his popular "Mary Roget" series was based on the unsolved murder of a New York socialite in 1841. Stashower parallels the account of Roger's life and death with a biography of the self-destructive author, the stories intersecting when Poe decides to fictionalize the crime's investigation. New York Times Book Review contributor William Grimes wrote that Stashower "vividly recreates the atmosphere of the period in a moody, sepia-toned style," telling a "story within the story within the story, a triple-twist ending to a fascinating tale." Grimes concluded: "Poe would have appreciated the ingenuity." Describing The Beautiful Cigar Girl as "part biography, part true crime, part history of tabloid journalism," Arthur Krystal in Harper's magazine called the book "an entertainingly offbeat and sometimes just-short-of-scholarly disquisition that nicely dovetails Poe's hectic life and stalled career into a civic lesson about old New York." Stashower "brings to this current, complex task both considerable intelligence and wide-ranging research," wrote a critic for Kirkus Reviews, who further described the book as "informative," "swift-moving," and "bold."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 1, 1999, Bryce Christensen, review of Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, p. 958.

Entertainment Weekly, April 23, 1999, Megan Harlan, review of Teller of Tales, p. 58.

Guardian, March 4, 2000, John Mullan, "A Home from Holmes."

Harper's, January, 2007, Arthur Krystal, review of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder, p. 83.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1999, review of Teller of Tales; February 15, 2002, review of The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television, p. 241; July 1, 2006, review of The Beautiful Cigar Girl, p. 670.

Library Journal, February 15, 1999, Laurel Bliss, review of Teller of Tales, p. 152.

National Review, May 31, 1999, Anthony Lejeune, "Elementary," p. 68.

New York Review of Books, November 4, 1999, Christopher Hitchens, "The Case of Arthur Conan Doyle," p. 25.

New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1985; May 2, 1999, David Walton, "Sherlock Holmes's Maker."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 18, 1999, Len Barcousky, review of Teller of Tales.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of Teller of Tales, p. 41; March 11, 2002, review of The Boy Genius and the Mogul, p. 65.

Seattle Times, April 11, 1999, Adam Woog, review of Teller of Tales.

Smithsonian, September, 1999, Emily d'Aulaire, review of Teller of Tales, p. 145.

Sunday Times (London, England), February 13, 2000, D.J. Taylor, "Under Investigation," p. 39.

Variety, April 22, 2002, Susanne Ault, review of The Boy Genius and the Mogul, p. 32.

ONLINE

Daniel Stashower Home Page,http://www.stashower.com (September 9, 2007).

Literary Review Online,http://www.litreview.com/ (June 30, 2000), Jessica Mann, review of Teller of Tales.

New York Times Book Review Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (October 25, 2006), William Grimes, review of The Beautiful Cigar Girl.