Saturday, April 28, 2012

Alistair Duncan's Eliminate the Impossible

A couple days ago, I received four of Alistair Duncan's books, published through MX.  I'm working my way through the first one, called Eliminate the Impossible.  (Amazon is being a pain today, so there won't be any links in this entry.)  Anyway, I hadn't known that these books were non-fiction.  Honestly, I don't have much of an interest in non-fiction, most likely because of the differences in the set up between fiction and non-fiction.  However, he was kind enough to read and review my first book and said that he would read and review my second, so the least I can do in return is read/review his.

While I'm not done with Eliminate the Impossible, I'm a good chunk through it.  It basically gives us a synopsis of the 56 short stories and 4 novels that Arthur Conan Doyle gave us, and then a probable year the story takes place, and some of the inconsistencies shown in the writing.  For instance, A Scandal in Bohemia, the short story where we meet Irene Adler.  The story itself says that it happens in late March, 1888.  Pretty clear cut, right?  However, Duncan's book pins the story in 1889, because another story makes a reference to this one, or perhaps this one makes a reference to another, but whichever one it is, that reference works against Watson being accurate in the time frame of March of '88.  (For the sake of Jack of All Trades, I'm going with what was written in Scandal, by the way.)

The second part of Duncan's book features different actors who have portrayed Holmes on stage/film.  I've skimmed this part of the book.  The most familiar names I know that are attached to Holmes are Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Matthew Frewer, Nicholas Rowe, Michael Caine, Robert Downey Jr., and Benedict Cumberbatch.  This book was written before the RDJ movies and before the BBC's Sherlock, however.  Now, Basil Rathbone, I don't think I've actually sat down and watched his portrayal of Holmes.  Jeremy Brett, I've seen a couple of episodes because I bought them recently on DVD.  Nicholas Rowe played Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes, my first movie experience of Sherlock Holmes.  Michael Caine played a bumbling, clueless "Holmes" in the comedic Without a Clue, where Watson is the true genius.  And Matthew Frewer played Holmes in several movies, including one I've taken to liking called The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire.  Not to be confused with Dan Turnbloom's book of the same name, available from MX.  The former has nothing to do with Jack the Ripper, the latter is entirely about Jack the Ripper and Holmes's investigation into the identity of said Ripper.

Unfortunately for  Nicholas Rowe and Michael Caine, neither are mentioned in Duncan's book.  Perhaps an oversight, perhaps the movies were too obscure, or perhaps spacing ion the book demanded things be left out.  Because I will say that's a disadvantage of this book.  It's very short, considering all the information it attempts to cover.  Though I do admit, if he went into everything, the book would probably be about a thousand pages and cost around eighty dollars.

One thing this book has inspired within me is my own desire to go through the Canon with a fine-toothed comb and see about my own attempt at a proper timeline.

I like the information Duncan's book provides, and honestly, despite that I don't gravitate towards non-fiction, I look forward to what his other books hold.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Makes a Pastiche?

This issue has arisen lately among MX authors and I decided to take a page from MX author, Amy Thomas and write my own opinion about it.

Let's examine the different types of Holmes stories out there.  There are ones like The Execution of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas that I feel very much matches how Conan Doyle wrote our favorite detective.  Then there are ones like Elementary, My Dear where the writing style . . . doesn't.  And let's just leave it at that.  I felt it was an interesting story, even if it does take a bit to get going . . .

Okay, let me stop here and review this book.  Elementary, My Dear is a Holmes book I picked up several years ago.  I think I got it at the same time, or just before I got a copy of Loren D Estleman's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, and his Holmes and Dracula book.  Anyway, the premise intrigued me.  Moriarty was a vampire and his undead nature was discovered by Holmes, which is why the Reichenbach Falls confrontation took place.  But there was an outcome I believe Holmes didn't expect.  Or perhaps had just hoped would not happen, I can't recall exactly.  Anyway, the outcome: he's turned into a vampire.  I don't recall  how or why, but he's basically put into suspended animation after Reichenbach.

Enter Samantha Watson, a medical student who has horrific nightmares and is terrified of all things blood-related.  She is the descendant of THE Dr. Watson, and inherits a letter and a mission to complete.  If she completes it, she inherits something like six million dollars.  The mission?  To resurrect the undead Holmes.  Because Moriarty didn't die, either.  And he's been spreading his vampirism to many others over the decades.

There are distinctly un-Holmes like parts to this book.  For one, I remember a scene in which Samantha asks him to dance and Holmes, pretty nervously and bashfully, replies that he can't; he doesn't know how.  And another scene where, after the romance has developed between Holmes and Samantha, they have sex.  That's just weird for a number of reasons, but the first and foremost is . . . Holmes having sex?  Generations of people have seen him as the one who doesn't trust the fairer sex.  He has no time to waste on love or other emotions unless they pertain to someone else while he is pursuing a case.  After all, I know I heard it in some Holmes related thing, 'love is an excellent motivator.'  Yes, it is a natural human act, but . . . for Holmes?  It's just weird.

Yet I do love the concept of the book.  When you get down to it, it asks the question should the earth be saved at the expense of humanity, or should humanity be saved at the expense of the earth?

It's by far not the best Holmes book out there, and if you go in thinking that it will be anywhere near the writing style of Conan Doyle, you WILL be disappointed.  However, I think it's a worthwhile read simply because of that very philosophical question it poses.

Okay, after that brief interlude, what makes a pastiche?  I can't help feeling that a pastiche is a higher caliber Holmes novel.  Something well-respected, possibly with even the approval of the Conan Doyle estate, and something where the author has taken loving care to reproduce a Holmes that is an embodiment of everything that Conan Doyle wrote him as, instead of adding in their own elements.

My own novels, for instance, while they are, of course, Holmes influenced, I'm aware they are not the same caliber as say, Loren D. Estleman's books.  Others may or may not agree, but when I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, I felt like I was truly reading something that Conan Doyle had hidden away and was found years later by someone else who endeavored to publish it.

I suppose that's what it all comes down to for me.  A Holmes pastiche is one that, upon reading a first, second, or tenth time, the reader still wonders how this was never published as part of the Canon, because obviously, it belongs there.  All the rest, while I don't doubt are very enjoyable, as I've read more than a few enjoyable ones, fall short of being called true pastiches.  They, and my own, are simply Holmes novels, endeavoring to join the ranks of everyone before us, and many after us, who are answering a call.  The call of the brilliant writing and creation that can only truly belong to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but that we all share a piece of.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Save Undershaw

I've been thinking lately about "Save Undershaw."  For anyone who doesn't know, Undershaw is the house in England where Arthur Conan Doyle lived for a time in his life, and also wrote parts of, I believe it was Hound of the Baskervilles, as well as some of the other Holmes short stories.  It has fallen into disrepair and a group is trying to raise money to have it refurnished so that it doesn't get turned into a hotel, I think it is, therefore changing the inside irrevocably.

I admit, I haven't looked into this issue as much as I should be, but honestly, I'd like to have more information.  I wish I had the ability to go to England and see Undershaw.  Or just visit England, because I'm a huge Beatles fan as well as Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, I think that this house should be preserved as it was.  Too many things are just tossed by the wayside now, in favor of 'modern wonders.'  There should be more care taken with things from the past, especially when they've housed such creative minds.  It's ironic that so many should remember Conan Doyle for a character he ended up hating because he felt said character overshadowed the more serious writing/other characters that he authored.  Yet I think that everyone who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes can appreciate the need to preserve things of the past.  For us Holmes fans/fanatics/obsessors, it's always Victorian England, circa 1880-odd.

Okay, I did want to write more, but unfortunately, I'm being interrupted by my hyper little parrot who doesn't seem to want to sit quietly on my shoulder.  Instead, he wants to climb everywhere, including on my head, which wouldn't be so bad, if he didn't then lean over and try to preen my eyelashes...

Sherlock In Love Review

One of my interview question has to do with what another author most admires and detests in a Holmes story.  When I asked that question to Stephen Seitz, author of Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula, he didn't name a specific novel or story for 'most admired,' but he certainly had an opinion on the most despised.  Sherlock in Love, by Sena Jeter Naslund.

Intrigued by the title, I decided to investigate on everyone's favorite website for books and other miscellaneous items, Amazon.  It immediately came up, I read the description, and decided to order it.  It came on Monday, I finished it last night, and I wanted to write a review.

I do feel that she has a good grasp of how Watson would write.  It's (obviously) not Conan Doyle, but it is very Watsonian-sounding.  The first thing I noticed was the very first sentence.  "Holmes was dead: to begin with."  I'm sorry, but the grammatical perfectionist inside me cringed at that opening line.  Why the colon?  And I can't help feeling like Watson would say it as, "To begin with, Holmes was dead."

Anyway, I can't find them right now, but there were two spots in the beginning "Present" section that made me pause.  I was getting in the Victorian mood, and reading those two bits were like coming to a screeching halt when you're hurtling down the highway at 60 miles an hour.  It just threw me completely off for that bit of time.

I also didn't feel it was entirely "Holmes" with how the author decided to have Holmes writing in his journal.  Holmes is always hard to do in first person, (believe me, I know that much,) but while it did sound kind of Holmes-ish, I don't know.  There was also something off about it that kept it from being authentic.

All in all, honestly, I did like this book.  I didn't feel that there was so much of a mystery, at least not with the Victor Sigerson case that Watson reads back on.  However, the beginning drew me in and made me want to read more.

It's not the best Holmes pastiche out there, but honestly, I find I can't agree with Stephen Seitz's apparent hatred of this story.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5.  Not great, but there are many, many worse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sherlock Holmes Short Stories

As per Watson in the original Conan Doyle stories, I reference unwritten stories in my own Holmes novels.  One such case is mentioned in the Ripper novel on which I'm currently working.  The Case of the Sangrove Diamond, I called it.  I don't know, the name just came to me, and I liked it.  But then I got to thinking about it and decided that I would come up  with a plot and write it up as a short story.  Then, I was thinking about the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby.  I've come up with a short story loosely based on Eleanor Rigby that I can write up as well.  And I already had one, thought up a year or so ago called The Mystery of the Haunted Wife.  I may wait until five stories strike me, but I'm going to write these three up and hopefully get them published in a volume by MX.  I've already given the title of two, but so it's clear:

Sherlock Holmes and the Garden of Sin.  The Mystery of the Haunted Wife.  The Case of the Sangrove Diamond.

Very short post today, but I'm also reading a book called Sherlock in Love.  It was (not) recommended by Stephen Seitz.  Honestly, he seems to loathe this book.  I'm only about forty pages in, but so far, I'm honestly intrigued.  She writes Watson very well, at least so far, and only two instances have made me say, "Hold on a sec..." but not enough for me to stop reading.  I'll see if that holds.  I'll undoubtedly review it in a few days.

Continuing Interview with David Ruffle

It was commented after my first interview with David Ruffle, which can be found here, that it was desired we continue the questions and answers.  I decided to oblige and recently sent David several more questions that are posted with his answers below.  Happy reading!

1. What do you feel truly makes a Holmes pastiche, and when is it 'just another Holmes story?'

It's easy to be narrow minded and somehow elitist regarding pastiches and stipulate that all true pastiches should be written in the style of ACD and be narrated by Watson. If we all took that as the norm for our Holmesian reading then we would miss out on such much out there that is of the highest quality. I no longer differentiate between pastiches and 'other' Holmes novels....I just appreciate them all on the same level, although my own preference is for 'proper' pastiche.

2. Whether pastiche or 'just a Holmes story,' do you feel there is anything left to be taboo when writing about such an iconic character?

I am not fond of slash/homoerotic Holmes fiction, to my mind it goes a step too far and goes way beyond the characters we know and love. Portraying Holmes and Watson in old age and approaching death or dealing with death itself is just fine with me, after all if we play the game of Holmes and Watson having lived then we must acknowledge they must have died.

3. 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?

I suppose she had a purpose to serve and she served it well. I must admit I haven't thought about making her central to a story although some have.

4. When writing something that has to do with Holmes, how easy and/or difficult is it for you to find the proper 'voice?' Ie - 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.

I love writing as Watson and any praise I get for my Watsonian voice means more to me than any other aspect of my writing. In a way, I do find it easy to write as Watson...not sure why that should be....perhaps I am a Watson myself!

5. And what writing projects do you have planned for the future?

.. An upcoming children's illustrated Sherlock Holmes book...another volume of Tales From The Stranger's Room......and after that...who knows...maybe Holmes and Watson will find themselves in Lyme Regis once more.........

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Links, Links, and More Links

Loving that Rendezvous is on this list. :)

Please check out this link and "Like" it on FB.

Rendezvous on Goodreads

I Will Find the Answer on Goodreads

I just wanted to include these in today's blog.  I do have a few things to write about, but I'll come back when I have more time to do that.  In the meantime, please enjoy these links, and I hope you'll pay attention to especially the second one.  Oh, and if you haven't reviewed Rendezvous or Answer, please take a moment and rate/comment on it on Goodreads or  Thanks!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jack of All Trades - The Problems

My first two novels, featuring Holmes's interactions with the Phantom and Jekyll/Hyde, were pretty easy compared with this one.  Phantom and Jekyll/Hyde are fictional stories, and assuming an author is good enough at storytelling, can bend the contents of that fictional story to meet what their novel wants to accomplish.  But you can't bend historical fact.  I admit, in Jack of All Trades, I'm taking liberties with the things that are implied, or the things I simply don't know, so the story flows.  My issue right now is the historical aspect of it.  All the different inspectors, commissioners, policemen in general who had their hands in this case, all the facts presented, the false leads, the ones accused . . .  How do I truly know what to put in?

I feel like this endeavor could completely consume me, and not in a good way, if I'm not careful.  I want to write.  I want to get this story told.  I want this one out to the public and I want to see the reaction people have, even if they end up hating it.  But I can't help feeling like the beginning, before the second murder (which is where I really start screwing with Holmes,Watson, and Erik,) might just wind up being its own river, with Holmes and Watson running along side, as it were, waiting for a time to jump in and truly mesh with the story.  I haven't yet actually completed a Jack the Ripper/Holmes story, except for Michael Dibdin's.  However, I have begun them.  And one thing I notice is that Holmes is immediately there.  He's part of things right off the bat.  It doesn't feel like he was just grafted on later in a shoddy job that's goig to fall apart at the slightest tweaking.

I suppose this is my writing freak out.  I'm writing from Watson's point of view right now, and I don't think any of his segments previous have been this long.  Yet I can't switch because Holmes is only narrating about three segments in this novel, and Erik isn't present yet.  He comes in after the paper releases news of Annie Chapman's murder.

I know once I get going with screwing with the characters and having the full interactions take place, I'll fare better than I am now, simply because that will be more fiction driven with the historical stuff still present, but more in the background.  Now, the fictional stuff is more in the background and the historical stuff is up at the forefront.  I just have to find a good balance, I guess.  The last thing I want is for the start of the novel to read like some kind of boring history paper with Holmes and Watson present to make it seem better than it is, and the latter parts to read like some kind of overly-dramatised fiction with hints of historical accuracy.

Does anyone else have these freak-out moments when writing?  I'd love to know I'm not alone.

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?

See above.

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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Taken Over by the Ghost of Watson

I mentioned before why I like to write in other voices when doing a Holmes pastiche.  We've all seen so much of Watson and his view on Holmes that sometimes it's nice to actually get another point of view.  Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano is one such view.  Henry Vernier is the narrator, and he is Holmes's cousin.  While I can agree with others' view that the author seems to despise Watson and created this Henry character simply to paint his version of Holmes as the 'correct' one, it's still somewhat refreshing to see Holmes through new eyes.  However, without Watson being involved in any way, it takes something from the story.  Something feels incomplete.  Like there's a vital part missing.  And of course, that part is Watson.  That's why I liked Laurie R King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice.  It's been awhile since I read it, and I've yet to read any of her others, though I have been collecting them, but even though she has a young woman author the books, Watson is there.  He's still a friend of Holmes.  He's still present, even if extremely in the background.

That's why, with Holmes in Victorian England, I would never dream of not including Watson.  But I must confess that in my first two novels, Rendezvous at the Populaire and I Will Find the Answer, I was more interested in what the other characters were thinking and feeling.  Watson was more of a background character simply because he is a normal man.  He's not at the genius level intelligence of his counterparts, Holmes and Erik, the Phantom.  Nor does he in any way descend into the kind of madness that Jekyll experiences.  Especially the second one was about exactly that -- a descent into madness.  Unleashed.  Uncontrolled.  Completely chaotic.  And Watson, as a normal British man in the 1880's, would honestly have no concept of what that would be like.  Erik, having been a madman during his time at the Opera Populaire, but trying to come back from it now, would have an acute understanding.  Holmes, because he has examined the criminal mind, would have an acceptable idea.  And Jekyll, because he descended into the madness of Hyde, his other self, would know exactly what a toll madness would wreak upon the soul.  They were the characters I was more interested in investing with my second book.

This third one, however . . . Jack of All Trades has a very distinct difference from the other two.  Well, more than one.  With the others, there was a very definite beginning, middle, and conclusion, and just about anyone in the general public knows the story.  Phantom of the Opera: a deformed genius, obsessed with a chorus girl turned diva eventually kidnaps her and forces her to choose between her childhood love and him, culminating in (according to the play,) him letting them go.  Jekyll and Hyde: a doctor, obsessed with finding out the secrets to human nature, experiments on himself and subjects the world to the murderous madman, Edward Hyde.  Because of (in the novel,) an unclean chemical in his mix, he is unable to control Hyde.  Jekyll dies at the end, never seeing his experiment come to fruition.

Jack the Ripper, however . . .  Even if we know about the autumn of 1888, even if we know that there are five victims definitely thought to be killed by Jack the Ripper, and as many as six more thought to be possibilities, even if we think that he may have stopped killing in London because he escaped to another continent (as far as I've heard from a friend whose father apparently studied Jack for a bit, similar killings cropped up in India and then America in the coming years after 1888,) that's all we have.  We don't know what he looked like.  We don't know how tall he was, what his physical characteristics were, if he was fat, thin, muscular, scrawny, dark-skinned, light-skinned, Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant . . .  Nothing!  We know nothing!  The only things known for sure are that prostitutes of the East End, in the Whitechapel district, were brutally murdered by someone the newspapers nicknamed Jack the Ripper.

Everything in this novel is going to be so chaotic already that unlike with the first two, I like writing Watson's thoughts.  He's pretty much going to be the one voice of sanity in this novel.  Holmes is dealing with the case, Erik is present after the second murder, but he has his own issues going on, and Watson, though I'm throwing him a curveball he doesn't see coming, he remains his normal British self, writing about the situations as they unfold.  A voice of reason amidst chaos.

I've been told that as good as some have found Rendezvous, I Will Find the Answer is that much better.  Jack of All Trades will up the bar again.  I wanted to release these novels every six months, which would mean I'd have to get Jack of All Trades done and sent so it could be released in May.  I doubt I'll make that self-imposed deadline.  But I'll try not to keep you waiting too long.  Though I will say . . .

It will be worth the wait.

Young Sherlock Holmes and My Other Film Favorites

To my knowledge, this 1985 movie starring Nicolas Rowe, Alan Cox, and Sophie Ward was my first glimpse into the Sherlock Holmes world.  And I wouldn't realize until years later that this movie was trying to explain what made the Holmes of ACD the way he was.  His distrust/indifference to women, the deerstalker cap and the cloak he wore, even his pipe.  But I didn't see any of that, then.  I just saw it as a really great movie that I absolutely loved once I sat down and watched it.  Or, more accurately, once my dad made me sit down and forced me to watch it.

It takes place when Holmes and Watson are teenagers, and though a disclaimer at the end says that Conan Doyle never had Holmes and Watson meeting as teens, that their initial meeting happens as adults, this movie is respectfully dedicated to 'what could have been.'

Holmes, Watson, and Holmes's girlfriend, Elizabeth, end up investigating a case when Elizabeth's uncle (and Holmes's mentor,) takes up a knife and stabs himself after seemingly going mad.  What the others don't know is that the uncle was hit with a 'thorn' dipped in a poison that, once in the bloodstream, causes the victim to experience nightmare-like hallucinations.  Investigating the case brings them to the heart of a cult, and the leader is determined--  Well, I shouldn't give it away.  I believe it's a movie worth seeing, however.  Purists may not like it, I admit.  But I do think the characters embody the traits of their adult counterparts.  And Watson has an especially ingenious idea towards the end that, as the saying goes, kills two birds with one stone.

Without a Clue is one I've also come to particularly enjoy.  Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley play the duo in this one.  Only with a twist.  Watson (Kingsley,) is the true genius who decided to invent the character of Sherlock Holmes so as to not interfere with his doctor career.  He couldn't be the one with the reputation for going off and solving mysteries, so he created a character who did.  Unfortunately, the public outcry and popularity for Holmes was such that Watson was forced to hire an out of work, drunken, womanizing, idiot actor to play the role.  Example:

Holmes: ::Looking up::  What am I looking for?

Watson: ::Staring intently at the ground, notepad in hand::  Footprints.

Holmes: ::Looks down immediately::  Have I found anything?

Watson: Not yet.

Holmes: Right.  Let me know when I do.

There are other terrific lines, but I don't want to give away too much of the plot.  However, both these movies are ones I'd recommend finding and watching.

I know I probably had another point in beginning this blog entry, but if I did, I can't recall it now.  It's late, I must sleep, so I'll return to this blog later.

Hopefully, I'll have my second interview up soon.  It's a continuation of things with David Ruffle.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Interview with Amy Thomas, Author of The Detective and The Woman

 I was lucky enough to post my last blog entry where I mentioned interviews coming in the next week, and seconds later, received the answers to these questions.  This is Amy Thomas, new MX author of The Detective and The Woman, available on April 16th, though it's available through the Baker Street Babes now.

1. How and why did your interest in Sherlock Holmes start? What is it about the character that fascinates you most?

I read Sherlock Holmes for the first time when I was nine or ten years old, and I remember checking an audiobook out of the library that had “The Speckled Band” on it, which totally creeped me out. Throughout my teenage years, I was a huge fan of the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, but the BBC Sherlock series rekindled my interest in the canon, and I re-read it in 2010 and began communicating with other Holmes fans from around the world.

2. What is your favorite story of the canon?

My favorite story is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” It features a wonderful female character, Violet Hunter, as well as a mystery that seems very domestic and housebound but turns out to be incredibly creepy in the end. It also has humorous character moments, which I love.

3. What are your top three favorites pastiches? (No fair picking your own!)

1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. I like every book in the Mary Russell series, but the first one is an exceptional introduction into her world. One of my favorite things about the series is that King manages to break so many Holmes taboos, such as the romantic one, but she does it in such a skillful and respectful way that she makes it work brilliantly.

2. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. Pastiche writers come at their subject from a variety of angles, and Meyer’s seems to be a love for the characters. His story is an excellent mystery, but it’s an even more excellent examination of Sherlock Holmes as a man. I find the book very inspiring because that is also my way of making sense of the Holmesian world—I start with the characters and then find the plot.

3. A Study in Sherlock edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger. As collections of Holmes stories go, this one is wildly unusual because it enlists the writing skills of non-Sherlockian authors. Some of the stories are very traditional pastiches, while others are only inspired by Sherlock Holmes in the loosest sense. I’m extremely inspired by the variety of techniques and angles.

4. In fellow Holmes pastiche authors, what do you most admire/most detest?

I most admire those who love and respect the characters and canon and are confident enough to do something new with them, while still respecting and connecting with the originals. I am most dismayed by those who try to imitate Conan Doyle without adding any new aspects to the stories. I have 60 stories of Conan Doyle’s to read, and no one else has his exact voice. I don’t have a problem with authors using Watson as narrator, but I expect something unique that gives me a reason to read a pastiche instead of just going back to the canon.

5. What was your inspiration for your own Holmes novels?

As a character-driven author, I was inspired by the canon, both by Holmes’s character and by Irene Adler—the person I thought Conan Doyle meant her to be at the end of “A Scandal in Bohemia” instead of the non-canonical ways she’s been characterized in some books and adaptations.

I was also inspired by the history of south Florida, where I live, which is the historical home of the inventor Thomas Edison. The time of Holmes’s Great Hiatus, when he was thought to be dead, was an interesting period in Floridian history, and I wanted to connect the two.

6. Who is your favorite paring with Holmes, crossover-wise? (Ie--Holmes and the Phantom, Holmes and the Ripper, Holmes and Dracula, Holmes somehow in contemporary times with an original female character, etc.)

I am the biggest fan of seeing Holmes interacting with real-life historical characters, but in a natural way, not necessarily because he’s a part of a major historical event, but just in the course of the normal working of cases. Really, though, the character is timeless enough that he can work in almost any context if the writer writes well.

7. What, if any, is your favorite more obscure Holmes movie? (For instance, Young Sherlock Holmes, Without a Clue, They Might Be Giants.)

I have a peculiar fondness for The Hound of the Baskervilles from 1959, starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry. It’s not a terribly popular adaptation, but I think Cushing’s love for the character really comes through in his portrayal.

I also like "Young Sherlock Holmes" a great deal. When I was a child, it made me fall madly in love with the teenaged Sherlock Holmes.

8. What is your favorite Holmes canon quote, and why?

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” – The Sign of Four

It has to be this one because it sums up so much of Holmes’s reasoning method in so many cases. It’s the heartbeat of the detective.

9. What, if any, is your favorite quote from the BBC's Sherlock?

Sherlock Holmes: Meretricious
Inspector Lestrade: And a happy New Year!

Call me frivolous, but this is one of my favorite moments in the whole show.

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?

First of all, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are so exceptional as Homes and Watson that it’s impossible to give them enough praise. They were outstanding in Series 1, but Series 2 takes them far further emotionally and relationally.

The second series contains three of the best episodes of television I have ever seen, both as a Sherlockian and just in general. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson have translated some of the heaviest moments of the canon into beautiful, stirring, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and wonderful hours of television.

Jack of All Trades

I've been away for awhile, from this blog and from Victorian England.  I must confess, since about January, I had no inspiration to work on my next Holmes novel, Jack of All Trades, at all.

It's the curse of a writer, or at least this writer, to be plagued with writer's block.  Some days, the writing is absolutely wonderful, and everything that comes out of your mind, through the pen, and onto the page is a glorious celebration of the possible perfection of the English language.

Other days, however . . .  You feel like you couldn't put even a halfway decent sentence together to save your life.  Anything that does spew out of your pen is complete crap, not even worth editing later because it feels so choppy, so you may as well not even write it.

And of course, the third option.  Where you're just so uninspired that you don't even want to pick up a pen, let alone write anything.

I've felt all three.  And lately, I've just been feeling completely uninspired as far as Holmes.  Part of it was because I finally got a job in the middle of January after being unemployed for a year.  So I was getting used to that.  Then, the same week I began the job, I noticed that my hedgehog (yes, I owned a hedgehog,) was sick.  I brought him to the vet and was given antibiotics to give him twice a day.  Unfortunately, those didn't work, so he was taken back in for a biopsy.  When the biopsy came back, it was discovered that he had cancer all along his lower jaw, as opposed to a vicious infection.  On Feb. 4th, I brought him back to the vet and had him put to sleep because I was not going to let him starve to death.  He'd already been losing weight since the first time he went to the vet when that began.

It was easily the hardest thing I've had to do concerning a pet.  I loved my little hedgehog.  But at least I know he lived a long life for a hedgehog.  They lived about four to six years, according to a breeder site, and Sonic was almost five.  He would've turned five on the 18th of this month, in fact.

In addition to that, while I was searching for food he might be able to swallow more easily, I went into a pet shop nearby.  There, I saw a bird called a Black-headed Caique.  (Ki-eek.)  I've wanted one of these little parrots for about ten years now, since I first saw one at another pet store near me that actually closed about a year ago.  Well, a few weeks and my tax return later, and I brought him and his new cage home with me.

I wasn't doing no writing during this time.  I'm writing different Young Adult novels, too, which I hope will be published eventually.  I went back to work on one of those and wrote a good twenty or more pages for it, as well as starting to rewrite the one before it, and figuring out the starting points for the two after it.

Unfortunately, once again, I missed the Great Holmes Debate because my laptop was out of commission for several weeks before I could bring it to a repair place.  As it turned out, they recommended I buy a new laptop, so that's what I'm typing on now.  The keyboard is taking a bit of time to get used to, but hey, at least now I can type.

Which (finally) brings me around to Jack of All Trades.  I'd been writing it in a non-linear fashion - that is, whenever a part struck me, I'd start writing it, then rip it out of the notebook and place it in the appropriate spot in a binder I had to hold the notes - and that worked for a bit.  Normally, I don't write novels like that.  The only one I've ever done that way was Rendezvous, and the only reason that worked is because I knew the story of Phantom of the Opera so well, there was no way I've get confused over where a part happened.

As I said, for Jack of All Trades, it worked for awhile.  I've got my binder with the segments.  But I decided a couple weeks ago to write it in a linear fashion.  It's going rather well at the moment.  I'm not going to give too much away, but I've decided to do something different in this novel.  Holmes has decided to release this story to the public, though he's hesitant to do so.  Instead of writing it primarily himself, and having narration from Watson/Erik and/or others, he asks Erik to commandeer the manuscript.  There will be about three segments narrated by Holmes, but the rest is narrated by Erik and Watson.  I hope this will satisfy the ones wishing for more Watson time after the second novel.  I'm hoping to give both Watson and Erik equal narrating time, but I can say that the chapters Watson narrates will probably be longer, so it will seem like he has more focus.

I do understand readers' desire for Watson being in the limelight and not having his role supplanted, seeing as how I'm including Erik in these books.  I suppose the reason I give so much narration power to other characters is because, with the Conan Doyle stories, and with most other pastiches, we hear Watson's voice.  Holmes novels are rarely told in third person, and mostly, we see Watson's perspective, unless he has been taken completely out of the equation and we have a new narrator who is a relation to Holmes (as in Angel of the Opera or the Web Weaver by Sam Siciliano,) or is a random person Holmes happens to meet (Shadow of Reichenbach Falls by John R King.)  While I don't want to break up this iconic duo (because honestly, where would either of them be without the other?  Or, as Sherlock puts it in the first season of the BBC's Sherlock, "Where would I be without my blogger?") I also don't want to just have Watson's take on things.  I want to get into the other characters' minds, walk around in their shoes for a bit.

Well, I suppose I've rambled enough.  I'll have hopefully two interviews forthcoming, so I look forward to posting those on here.