Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Interview with Stephen Seitz, and Review of Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula
Back in October of 2008, I was in a Short Story class at the community college in my area. We had to not only read a bunch of short stories, (all of them incredibly depressing, by the way,) but we also had to write one to be submitted to class as part of the final grade. Well, I'd written one, but it was based on the experience of a then-friend of mine and he said he'd rather I not hand it in. I respected that, and ended up writing the short story that would blossom into my novel, I Will Find the Answer, my second Holmes novel. Not too much later, I was telling that then-friend about the Jekyll/Hyde and Holmes novel, and he said I shouldn't do that, I should write one about Holmes and Dracula. The next day, I followed him around with a notebook and pen as he gave me the plot for what will become my own Holmes/Van Helsing/Dracula novel. But I also wanted to do some research into what other authors have done with that pairing/trio. So, I got Loren D Estleman's Holmes/Dracula book, and Stephen Seitz's Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula. I've never finsihed the former, but the latter I've read through at least twice, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Especially his explanation of Holmes's Great Hiatus. And now, Plague of Dracula is being re-released through MX Publishing, and I was lucky enough to catch up with Stephen for an interview.
1. How and why did your interest in Sherlock Holmes start? What is it about the character that fascinates you most?
When I was a high school freshman, I was doing homework in the town library and got bored. So I roamed the stacks and settled on The Hound of the Baskervilles. I checked it out, started reading when I got home, and didn't put it down until 3 a.m. Like us all, I had to have more.
2. What is your favorite story of the canon?
It remains Hound. The first encounter is always the most memorable.
3. What are your top three favorites pastiches? (No fair picking your own!)
Damn! In no particular order: Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution, Stephen King's "The Doctor's Case," and Edward Hanna's The Whitechapel Horrors, even though the latter is not in Conan Doyle's style. It does, however, provide the best explanation for Jack the Ripper's close escapes.
4. In fellow Holmes pastiche authors, what do you most admire/most detest?
I admire the ones who take the extra time and effort to get it right. Research is vital in an endeavor like this; it's not just a matter of mimicking style. Today's readers want everything in its proper place. They also want the characters to be in character. If you venture afield, you'd better have a good reason why and provide a solid basis for it.
Sena Jeter Naslund's Sherlock in Love is the rock-bottom worst. She is a man-hating feminist academic who decided to take revenge on Holmes for being a Victorian misogynist (which isn't true; Holmes distrusted women, but did not hate them). She came up with one of the most hateful, and hate-filled, books I've ever read. Ideology is not a good basis for fiction.
5. What was your inspiration for your own Holmes novel?
On reading Dracula for the first time, I was struck by the "Bloofer Lady" episode. Who do you call when a mysterious crime occurs? So I started taking notes.
6. Who is your favorite pairing with Holmes, crossover-wise? (i.e. --Holmes and the Phantom, Holmes and the Ripper, Holmes and Dracula, Holmes somehow in contemporary times with an original female character, etc.)
I don't have a real favorite. It depends on the skill of the author. But if you've seen Octopussy, you'll note an appearance by Douglas Wilmer, who played Holmes in the 1970s. He joins Roger Moore at an art auction, giving us James Bond and Sherlock Holmes on the same screen.
7. What, if any, is your favorite more obscure Holmes movie? (For instance, Young Sherlock Holmes, Without a Clue, They Might Be Giants, etc.)
Far too few people know Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr.
8. What is your favorite Holmes canon quote, and why?
A lot of people could benefit from understanding this: "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius." -- The Valley of Fear
9. What, if any, is your favorite quote from the BBC's Sherlock?
I've only seen the first season.
10. How awesome is Benedict Cumberbatch?? (Lol, just kidding.) Seriously, however, if you've been lucky enough to view the second season of Sherlock, without giving too much away, what is your opinion of it?
11. There was a recent blog post, (and I'll see if I can find it, but if you know it, please post the link in here?) where it was discussed when a Sherlock Holmes piece is a pastiche and when it isn't. What do you feel truly makes a Holmes pastiche, and when is it 'just another Holmes story?'
If it's in Conan Doyle style, it meets the standard definition of pastiche.
12. Whether pastiche or 'just a Holmes story,' do you feel there is anything left to be taboo when writing about such an iconic character?
No. Everything is fair game.
13. One thing I noted from looking over my volume of the Canon is that Mrs. Hudson was never the central figure in a story. Why do you suppose that is, and have you ever thought about giving her her own mystery?
Most people don't spend a lot of time with their landlords. You pay the rent and expect the roof to stay on. I have a friend with a marvelous theory, though. Since Mrs. Hudson is never described, for all we know she was a stunning young widow who carried on an affair with Holmes for years. That would explain a lot.
14. When writing something that has to do with Holmes, how easy and/or difficult is it for you to find the proper 'voice?' i.e., who, if other than Watson, narrates. If you have Watson narrate, being able to write him as if you are Conan Doyle and getting that particular style down.
Those two have been a part of my life for so long, the voice is natural. I often find myself talking in Holmesian cadence.
15. And what writing projects do you have planned for the future?
Two more for Holmes: I am currently researching the full story of Charles Augustus Milverton, and I believe I know the source of Holmes' distrust of women. I also have a contemporary mystery novel being rejected by agents and publishers everywhere, and I am writing another; they're fun. I am also pecking away at a collection of essays on the art of cinema. I'm a fairly well known critic in these parts.
16. In your book, why did you decide to have vampirism be, ultimately, a virus? And did you have that idea in your mind from the start, or did you decide that later as a way to explain the Great Hiatus?
"You are allowed one impossible assumption per story." -- James Blish
At some point you have to decide in which universe your story will take place: in this case, the natural world or the supernatural. Sherlock Holmes cannot function in a supernatural environment. Therefore, this particular story has to be in the natural world of Victorian London, 1890.
That meant having a scientific basis for certain supernatural elements in Dracula. Stoker himself raised the idea of disease, comparing vampirism to tuberculosis. In this case, I worked from effect (reanimated body, the need to consume blood) to cause, and came up with something which fit into commonly understood vampire lore. That only took about 15 years or so.
With it, finally, came a better explanation for the Great Hiatus. (I never bought "The Empty House" version. Does anyone?) Such a project as ridding the world of vampires is certainly a worthy one for Holmes.
17. What made you choose Dracula?
Explained above, but you have to understand that this book was more or less a hobby for about 20 years. A few years ago I found myself with more than 200 pages piled up in a box, so I organized it into a proper novel, had the excellent Jeanne Cavelos find the flaws and help me fix them, and somehow managed to arrange publication.