Tag Archives: #writers

10 Questions with Dan Andriacco

Mild-mannered communications director (for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati) by day, mystery writer by night, Dan Andriacco discusses Sherlock Holmes, the mystery genre, and his own Sebastian McCabe/Jeff Cody series. Deftly planned puzzles solved by engaging characters, and written with a light touch, the McCabe/Cody (or Cody/McCabe) books track the adventures of two brothers-in-law  who find themselves–through absolutely no fault of their own–drawn into solving mysteries with a Sherlockian connection. Dr. Andriacco’s newest book, Holmes Sweet Holmes,  officially releases today.

No Vatican cameos here. Perhaps I should consult Dr.Dan….

How did you first meet Sherlock Holmes? 

I write about this in the first chapter of Baker Street Beat. Briefly, a boyhood friend told me about Sherlock Holmes and we used to act out the stories before I ever read them. I think I was about nine when I read The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes. I was in the seventh grade when I bought my own copy of the Doubleday Complete. My image of Holmes was set in my mind long before I saw the old Basil Rathbone movies, which was my first screen image of Holmes.

So many Sherlockians who write about Sherlock Holmes choose to write pastiche. Your mystery series, while it references different aspects of Holmes and his fans, features original characters who aren’t opening a tin dispatch box found in the rubble of Cox and Co. Why did you choose a more non-traditional route? 

From a very young age I wanted to be a mystery writer. I never said to myself that I wanted to be a Sherlock Holmes writer. But being steeped in Holmes, it was natural to me that when I started writing mystery novels my main characters would be Sherlockians as well.

Your main characters, Sebastian McCabe, Jeff Cody, and Lynda Teal are very well-drawn. Did you base any of them on actual people? 

I’ve never based any main character entirely on a real person, but I think all three of them either embody some aspect of me or of my ideal self. I would love to work magic tricks and speak five languages like Sebastian McCabe. Lynda and I share the same favorite brand of bourbon and a few other traits. I thought Jeff was a comic exaggeration of me, but my wife said, “No, you’re just like that!” None of them physically resembles anybody I know.

You’ve also written some well-received traditional pastiches. Did writing, say, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden” differ from writing with your own characters? How? 

Writing a pastiche that aims to imitate the voice of the original writer is very different from finding one’s own voice. In writing “Harden,” I tried to replicate the voice of Dr. Watson that we know so well, but also the feel of the Canonical stories in a broader sense. That’s not so easy. In fact, I think many Sherlockians would agree with me that some of the Canonical stories don’t even read like Canonical stories!

Do you read much Sherlock Holmes pastiche? If not, why not. If so, do you have any favorite books, stories, authors, or themes? Any you tend to avoid? 

I don’t read a lot of pastiches these days because there are just too many to keep up with. In general, the closer a writer comes to the Watson voice and the feel of the original stories (see above) the better I like it. And yet, paradoxically, I very much enjoyed the Tracy Revels books and Amy Thomas’s The Detective and the Woman, both of which don’t fit that pattern.

And, since you’ve written traditional mysteries, and have reviewed them for the Cincinnati Post, which are some of your favorite authors and/or books? 

I’m always reading a book and it’s almost always a mystery, so it’s hard for me to name just a few. I love the writers of what’s been called the Golden Age of detective stories – Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, Erle Stanley Gardner, etc. I’ve been re-reading some of them lately. A lot of really good writers have died in the last year or two, including Stuart B. Kaminsky. I especially liked his Russian novels. Among writers still at work, I enjoy John Grisham, Elizabeth Peters, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Connelly, and Kathleen Kaska. Those are just a few.

You’ve taught classes in mystery writing. What do you think beginning writers should pay the most attention to? 

The beginning and the end. Mickey Spillane once said, “The first chapter sells this book, the last chapter sells the next one.” I think that’s great advice.

“You see, Holmes, Dr. Andriacco teaches writing, and he says absolutely nothing about ‘cutting the poetry.'”

What, for you, is the most difficult part of writing a mystery? 

Plotting drives me nuts. Sometimes I have to give up on a great idea because it’s just too unrealistic for anybody to suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, many writers don’t seem to do that. When it comes to the actual writing, the first sentence, paragraph, and page are usually the hardest for me. I think (and hope) my endings have all been rather strong. I seem to pick up momentum and write faster and maybe better at the end.

You’re a member of the Tankerville Club, the Cincinnati scion society.  What are some of the benefits people might  experience should they join a society in their area? 

It’s always good to gather with other people over a shared interest. I think it increases the pleasure of whatever that interest is. You may disagree on politics, religion, and your favorite sports with other members, but that’s trivial compared to your common love of Holmes.

And, of course, everyone wants to know about your future writing plans… 

 The world’s greatest publisher, Steve Emecz of MX Publishing, thinks that two books a year would be a good pace. I can easily do that. My third McCabe-Cody book, The 1895 Murder, is already written for Nov. 1 publication. I’ve also written a short story from Lynda’s point of view and no McCabe in sight. That will be a kind of bonus at the end of 1895.  I’m two-thirds of the way through a novella for a contest sponsored by the Wolfe Pack, the association for Nero Wolfe fans. The fourth McCabe-Cody novel will take place in London and we’re going there in October. I also know in detail what the fifth and sixth McCabe-Cody books will be and I have more general ideas for several more. I can’t wait to write them!

Dan Andriacco is the author of Sebastian McCabe/Jeff Cody mysteries No Police Like Holmes (reviewed in this blog 3/27/2012), and Holmes Sweet Holmes, released May 1, 2012. He’s also the author of a collection of essays, fiction, and plays, Baker Street Beat. One of his pastiches, “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden,” is available separately as an e-pub. You can buy Dr. Andriacco’s books from the MX Publishing website, the Baker Street Babes online bookstore, or any major online bookseller. Dan Andriacco is active on FaceBook, Twitter, and keeps a regular blog at http://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/

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Filed under Dan Andriacco, Holmes-related fiction, Interview, Jeff Cody and Sebastian McCabe, MX Publishing, Uncategorized

Ten Questions with Alistair Duncan

“I know what you’re saying, Holmes. I just don’t think the agony columns are the proper place in which to communicate with my readers.”

Alistair Duncan is well-known in Sherlockian circles for his non-fiction work. Beginning with an analysis of Holmes (and some other characters) both in the canon and on-screen in Eliminate the Impossible (London: MX 2008) continuing through Close to Holmes; The Norwood Author; and An Entirely New Country, Mr. Duncan continues to produce books that examine both Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle in the context of their environments. Mr. Duncan is also very active in the movement to preserve Undershaw, home of the Doyle family from 1897-1907, and where The Hound of the Baskervilles was written and Holmes’ return from the Great Hiatus was recorded. I asked him a few questions about his books, life as a writer, and his views on Undershaw….

Many writers who are drawn to Sherlock Holmes start writing pastiche. Why did you choose the non-fiction route?

I suppose I like to research and analyse facts and I have quite an analytical mind. This kind of mind lends itself towards non-fiction. For me it is like solving a mystery; you have to gather the facts, decide what is relevant, put it all together and arrive at a conclusion that pleases people. In some ways it is tougher than fiction as you have to work with facts; you cannot invent things to get yourself out of a hole.

Which of your books has been the most fun to write, and why?

The last two have been equally fun to write. The Norwood Author was fun because I knew I was breaking new ground and uncovering information that had not been widely seen (if seen at all). An Entirely New Country was fun for very similar reasons but also because it is part of a much bigger battle – that to save Undershaw.

You’ve said in your blog that you don’t like Sherlock Holmes pastiches with a supernatural theme. Do you have any favorite themes? Pastiche books/stories? Any favorite authors? And why these?

I don’t have any favourite pastiche authors as I don’t read that many. I also don’t have any favourite books for much the same reason. As for themes, I want pastiche stories that stick to Conan Doyle’s world. No fairies, no demons, no “Holmes is a wizard” and no interaction with characters from other stories (particularly those of other authors). In my opinion Holmes’s world is quite clearly defined and you should operate within it. However I accept that other people enjoy works that depart from the canonical world.

Which do you enjoy more, research or writing, and why?

Both; boring and concise answer I know but true.

“Remember that rather impertinent reviewer, Watson? Well, I don’t think he’ll be troubling you anymore.”

In your blog, you’re very open about the joys and tribulations of being a published author. What has surprised you (or not)? What do you enjoy about being published the most? What do you find more frustrating?

Being published undoubtedly gives kudos. Your opinion, if your book is a success, tends to carry more weight than those of other people (even when it should not). However the flip side of the coin is that people tend to be more ready to attack you and sometimes do so in a nasty way. The internet has made this more possible and people can often be vicious as they know they can be anonymous. It is cowardly but one of the things you have to face.

The most frustrating aspect is that if someone does decide to have a go at you it is not wise to respond. I have occasionally slipped and taken someone on but whether you are right or wrong it tends to do more harm than good to you as an author. So having to bite your tongue can be very frustrating.

Have you found blogging and social media to be helpful to you as a writer? Do you prefer one over the other, and why?

They are both helpful and help you to maintain a public presence even during those times when you are not working on anything. Twitter is a personal favourite as it is very easy to reach large numbers of people very quickly. The blog is a place where I can put a lot more information; so the two are used in tandem. I use Twitter to drive people to my blog where I expand on subjects of interest.

 Currently, the fate of Arthur Conan Doyle’s home, Undershaw is the subject of fierce debate. Why do you believe Undershaw is worth preserving?

Where to start? Well it is the only home that is currently vacant and largely as he left it (with the exception of an extension). So much of significance took place during the time that he owned it. I would go into details but then you would not need to buy my book.

Rather than repeat myself I would encourage people to visit my blog:

http://alistaird221b.blogspot.co.uk/p/undershaw-my-view.html

(Blogger’s note: You will, indeed, find plenty of information on Mr. Duncan’s blog, both on his views of the UPT’s mission, and on current UPT efforts. Also, if you’re at all interested in Doyle’s life, or in Undershaw, I do encourage you to buy An Entirely New Country; proceeds from each sale go to fund the UPT’s efforts–plus, it’s just a very interesting book!)

Should the Undershaw Preservation Trust’s efforts be successful, what challenges will they face, and what support will they need?

Well first you must understand that while I support the UPT I am not a member of it and am therefore not privy to its decisions and strategy. The UPT is only trying to overturn the planning consent. If that is successful the UPT has achieved its aim. In the event the house ends up back on the market, the challenge will be to find someone with both the money and the desire to restore it to its former glory.

You’ve recently finished editing Phil Growick’s book, The Secret Journal of Dr. Watson for MX Publishing. Did you enjoy editing? What was it like to edit another writer’s work?

I’ve edited before but never on that scale. The editing had two sides to it. The first was simply to look for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. The second aspect was to ensure that it was canonically accurate. Fortunately Phil was not overprotective of anything that he had written and he typically followed my advice (although he did not do so without the occasional question – which was good). As a result we have managed to produce something that is already getting some nice praise.

Editing someone else’s work is challenging because you have to remember that it is their book and not yours; if you don’t like the plot, characters or pace, you can advise but nothing more. So it has the potential to be frustrating at times especially if you invest too much of yourself in it.

And of course we want to know about any future projects you have planned? Do you think you’ll ever make a foray into fiction?

I’m toying with the idea of writing a couple of short pastiche stories but you won’t see them for a while yet. I’m far weaker when it comes to fiction and will take my time over it.

Alistair Duncan’s books are available from major online retailers, as well as from the Baker Street Babes’ store, and the MX Publishing website. He is active on Twitter, and regularly updates his blog at http://alistaird221b.blogspot.com/

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Filed under Alistair Duncan, Interview, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Undershaw

Ten Questions with Amy Thomas

One day, while wondering how to vary blog content while still keeping with the book review theme, it dawned on me that readers tend to be interested in all aspects of book-making, not just the final product. With that in mind, I decided to ask several authors of books I’ve recently reviewed if they would like to answer some interview questions. Without exception, they all quite kindly agreed. I now plan to make this a fairly regular blog feature.

“Not that kind of book-making, Watson. Put your cheque-book away, or I shall be forced to lock it up again.”

My first interview is with Amy Thomas, Baker Street Babe and author of the recently released and well-received The Detective and the Woman (London: MX, 2012), an adventure which teams Holmes up with the Woman, Irene Adler. This is Amy’s first book, and I wanted to get her take on what it’s like to be a new author, as well as her experience writing Holmes, and her views on the enigmatic Irene Adler….

Is it true that The Detective and the Woman began as a NaNoWriMo project? Did you think of it specifically for  NaNoWriMo, or had it been percolating awhile? And, the obvious question is: how in the world did you finish?

Yes! It started as a NaNoWriMo project in 2011. I had heard of NaNoWriMo a while ago, and last year I realized that I had the time and the desire to actually take the plunge and attempt it. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it for the first few days in case I couldn’t finish, but as I got going, I became more confident that I could do it. I’m not even sure how I finished—the novel actually took me seventeen days! I spent most of my free time writing, obviously, and I found the free tools on the NaNo website really helpful because they tracked my wordcount and gave me a way to make sure I wasn’t getting behind.

Doing NaNoWriMo was also a chance for me to find the silver lining in a dark cloud, namely, the fact that I have active Crohn’s Disease, which is an autoimmune digestive disorder and major health challenge. Because of my physical limitations, I have a lot more time to devote to things like writing than I would have had if I was working full time outside the home.

As far as thinking of the content of the novel, it was a combination of ideas that had been percolating in my brain and new ideas that came during November. I was very inspired when I re-read the Holmes canon in 2010, and many things in the novel are definitely a result of those thoughts.

How did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I encountered Sherlock Holmes some time before the age of ten. I remember being vastly creeped out by an audiobook that had “The Speckled Band” on it, and I went on to read many of the stories. I was extremely heartbroken when Holmes “died,” but my older sister took pity on me and told me about “The Empty House,” which, if I recall correctly, greatly annoyed my mother, who wanted me to have to discover it all for myself.

Over the next few years, a friend introduced me to The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King, and I became a huge fan of her Holmes series as well.

What drew you to Irene Adler as a heroine?

The Sherlock Holmes canon contains a very small quantity of feminine characters, and as an adult woman re-reading it, I found myself thinking about how I would respond to Holmes if I were a part of the stories and identifying, to some extent, with Irene Adler. I particularly enjoyed Irene’s lack of awe at his brilliance coupled with her respect for him as a man and an equal. In addition, I found her character arc in “A Scandal in Bohemia” fascinating because Holmes begins the story thinking of her as the villain and ends up regarding her as honorable, more so than his client.

Irene has been used as a heroine, a villainess, or love interest for Holmes many times. How do you think your version of Irene differs, and how did you decide on the way in which you wished to portray her?

One of the main differences between my version and others is that I wrote Irene primarily as a person, rather than as a woman. That isn’t to say she’s unfeminine. Conan Doyle emphasized aspects of her femininity, and I did as well; however, I wanted to explore her motivations and intelligence beyond her sexuality.

I imagined what would have happened if Holmes and Irene had been thrown together again after “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and I found that the level of respect they both displayed for one another by the end of the story provided a solid basis for a friendship of equal minds, albeit one that goes through several necessary trials of trust.

Irene is a bit of a blank slate in the canon, but Sherlock Holmes is not. Did you find his character hard to write? Why or why not? Did you try to mimic ACD’s version, are there other versions you used for inspiration, or did you let your imagination take over?

My story is a non-traditional pastiche in the sense that I did not seek to imitate Conan Doyle’s writing style or use Dr. Watson as a narrator. I was far more interested in exploring the psychology of Holmes and Irene and following their thought processes through a case. The canon is certainly my main influence, but Conan Doyle definitely did not approach his characters the way I did. As a result, my imagination had to take me from Holmes as he’s described by his creator to the more internal world I wanted to portray. Laurie R. King was an inspiration in this area because she provides a more internalized perspective than Conan Doyle. I did not seek to copy her portrayal, but I was inspired by her approach.

My analysis of Holmes’s character had been part of my thought processes since re-reading the stories in 2010, so when I sat down to actually pen the novel, I didn’t find him difficult to write. His actions flowed from the idea of him that I had already formed mentally.

Do you read a lot of pastiche? If so, do you have favorite authors, books/stories, or themes? 

I write book reviews for the Baker Street Babes, so I am always reading Holmes pastiches of all kinds. Laurie R. King is my favorite pastiche author, and I also think The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer is an exceptional example of the genre. Generally, I prefer books that do not try to sound exactly like Conan Doyle because it’s very difficult to do well.

You’ve written some fan fiction. Did you find this experience useful when writing The Detective and the Woman?

Definitely! Fanfiction is great writing practice because there are many accessible ways to make it available online and receive feedback from readers. One of the only major differences between a quality work of fanfiction and a pastiche is that the second has been published for profit, and fanfiction can be a wonderful way for someone who wants to write a novel to get their feet wet. The positive comments I received from readers of my fanfiction helped give me the confidence I needed to write a full-length book and offer it to be considered for publication.

You’re one of the Baker Street Babes, which is a very diverse group of young women. How did you all meet each other?

I met a few of my fellow Babes through the Baker Street Supper Club, a fansite devoted to the BBC’s Sherlock television series. Several of them were already podcasting together when they asked me to join them to help interview Laurie R. King in 2011, and they invited me to join them permanently in early 2012 as a contributor to the podcast and one of the book reviewers for the website.

What’s it like being a published author? Is it like you expected? What’s surprised you?

The publishing process happened very quickly for me, much more quickly than I had ever expected. In some ways, I feel like I’m still in shock when I see my name on the front of a published novel. One of the main surprises has been the ease of the process, all the way from finding a publisher to the book launch. I know that my experience has been atypical in many ways, but I’ve been very blessed to work with a wonderful publisher (Steve Emecz from MX Publishing) who truly understands and supports Holmes pastiche.

And of course we all want to know about your future writing plans…

Right now I’m working on a sequel to The Detective and The Woman, which is based on a tantalizing quote from the Holmes canon about a man who goes into his house to retrieve his umbrella and disappears forever.*

“Oh, c’mon Holmes! It’s not fair that Miss Adler gets to know what happened to James Phillimore and I don’t!”

*Raise your hand if the James Phillimore story is your favorite of the “tin dispatch box” cases!  *raises hand*

The Detective and the Woman is available through traditional online sites. It is also available from the Baker Street Babes’ shop; purchasing it there will help the Babes continue to add much-needed bandwidth for their popular podcasts.

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Filed under Amy Thomas, Baker Street Babes, Interview

Review Policy and Interview Questionnaire

“I can’t believe “Creeping Man” got only three stars, Holmes!”

Unfortunately, due to the demands of career, family, and my rather-too-thorough way of reviewing, I cannot personally review every book with a connection to Sherlock Holmes. I have therefore come up with a system which I hope will allow authors to share their books with potential readers in a more timely fashion. Just follow these easy steps to have your book featured in this blog:

1. Ask yourself: is this the right blog for my book? 

  • Is it about Sherlock Holmes?
  • Does it contain exceptionally violent scenes?  I’m sorry, but while some violence is obviously expected in a crime adventure, extremely graphic gore is really not what a lot of readers are looking for in a Holmes story. Certain exceptions are possible, for non-fiction or “Holmes v. The Ripper” stories, as no one should be surprised by either.
  • Does it contain graphic sex scenes, or is it erotica? I know a lot of people enjoy reading and writing these, but if so, this is not the blog you’re looking for. Again, most of my readers don’t look for much sex at all in a Holmes story, and would rather it be implied if it has to be there.
  • Have I made my book the absolute best it can possibly be? This is important. When you’re putting your work before the public, you want to be sure you’ve edited and revised it–not just for spelling and punctuation errors, but for factual mistakes, continuity problems, pacing issues, character and plot believability, etc. It’s so tempting to rush your first or second draft to Amazon, but it’s not usually wise. Even though books featured this way will avoid a “star review,” you may receive reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, IHOSE or other places, and you want those to be good.

2. It is? Yay!  Now answer these interview questions. They cover your book, as well as your life as a writer. Please answer at least 10, but feel free to answer as many as you wish–or to add one of your own. You answers may be edited for spelling, grammar, or comprehension, or to get rid of sweary language, but you shouldn’t see much change. The order of the questions in the interview may be adjusted for flow; here they appear in no particular order.

Interview Questions

1.  How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?

2. What is your favorite Canon story and why?

3. What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche and why?

4. What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?

5. When did you decide you wanted to become a writer/

6. Why did you decide you wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes?

7. What inspired you to write this particular book?

8. Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?

9. How closely does your book hew to canon? Why or why not? Was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen?

10. What did you most enjoy about writing your book?

11. What was the hardest part about writing your book?

12.  Where did you get the idea for this book?

13. Do you have a particular writing process? Would you like to share it with us?

14. Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?

15. Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?

16. Are you using Watson as a narrator?  Why or why not? If so, did you find it difficult to mimic his voice? Did you use any particular “tricks”?

17. Can you share some of the reviews you’ve received for this book? (Please note: these should not be reviews from your family or close friends.)

18. What is your favorite moment in this book?

19. Who is your favorite character in this book?

20. Did you find that using Conan Doyle’s characters made this story easier or more difficult to write?

21. Did you include any original characters? Can you describe them for us?

22. What is your writing philosophy?

23. Any advice for aspiring writers?

24. How did you feel when you first saw your book–in actual book form?

25. How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?

26. What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?

27. Where can readers get a copy of your book?

28. Add a question of your own!

3. Once you’ve answered your questions, send a copy of them to me via e-mail at wrsherlockian@gmail.com.  Please include an image of your book cover, and, if you are amenable, a picture of yourself (it does not have to be fancy). 

4. I will format and post your interview as soon as possible. My idea is to let each interview have at least a week as the main post before I put up another. 

And there we are! I have high hopes for this new approach–but will likely be tweaking it as necessary. Thanks for your patience and participation!

 

 

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Filed under Policies and Housekeeping