dude, seriously?

I cannot count the times I’ve said this during my research.

John Dee and Edward Kelley were two borderline heretical Protestants traveling in hardcore Catholic Europe during the wars of religion. When does it get smart to tell a Jesuit they talked with angels (seriously?) or try to show a priest their records of the same (dude!)?

Right now I’m wrestling with a scene in which Kelley tells a papal representative – in detail – what he thinks is wrong with the Catholic church.

Dude, seriously?

I know – in reality people sometimes just do stupid things, but in fiction actions need reasons lest the reader shut the book in disbelief.

Dee never described Kelley’s motive in his account of this incident. While this gives me freedom to make something up, I’m pulling historical and personality threads from everywhere to plausibly explain this blind spot.

Kelley’s not the only one to leave me scratching my head – these guys sometimes baffle me to the point that I stammer like a stoned surfer! I doubt “Dee and Kelley’s Excellent Adventure” would sell to the historical fiction crowd but I’m tempted to write it just to get the “OMG WTF were you thinking?!” out of my system.

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what is it?

I’ve been secretive about the details of my book out of irrational fears of being scooped and having a stupid premise. Then I remembered I’m not the first person to write about these people, and the informal feedback I’m getting suggests I’ve found an interesting angle so I thought I’d come clean:

My novel is about the strange working and domestic partnership of the 16th century mathematician/magus John Dee and his crystal ball gazer (or “scryer”) Edward Kelley. The short version: Dee was one of the geniuses of the Elizabethan age and still Kelley managed to convince him for almost 10 years that he talked with angels. This delusion led them to create a magic system still in use today, scold the Holy Roman Emperor, piss off some clerics, have a seance with the King of Poland, and ultimately swap wives.

Most scholars seem to write off Dee as a rube and Kelley as a con man, which they undoubtedly were to some degree, but on closer examination the story is much more complicated. Kelley questioned the veracity of his own visions and tried to leave Dee more than once, and the sheer volume and variety of their output suggests there was something more going on.

In my research I’ve only found one article that explores in depth the idea that the “angels” were the product of fraud combined with mental illness, and that’s my premise.

My story assumes that Kelley pulled a con that got out of hand when he started actually seeing things. With Dee’s encouragement this turned into a kind of “folie a deux” and they dragged their wives along with them.

Kelley is my protagonist, as he seems to have the most obvious story arc and because I’m personally fascinated by his motives and his possible perspective of Dee’s obsession with their “actions” (seances).

Dee’s wife Jane is my other POV character, as she’s been given short shrift in the other fiction I’ve read (when she appears at all), and given what must have been her demanding responsibilities managing an experimental household, I figure she’s got good reason to be angry at both Dee and Kelley = conflict ahoy!

It’s turning into a bit of a genre bender – it’s certainly historical but not clear-cut military or romance (though there is sex), with elements of ambiguous paranormal/psychological horror (are the angels real or shared madness?), then there’s the adventure on the Continent and domestic drama…

So, kinda hard to pin down. But never dull.