"a story for which the world is not yet prepared" [SUSS]
With the Halloween season upon us, it is a perfect time for reading horror stories. Some people forget that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a rich voice in tales of terror ( I have my own collection of them in A Study in Terror: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Revolutionary Stories of Fear and the Supernatural),but he tended to leave that voice out of his Sherlock Holmes stories. The great detective did have horror elements in some of his adventures, but Doyle, with the exception of "The Creeping Man," always grounded Holmes in reality. Of course, some authors have ignored Holmes rule of "no ghosts nee apply," and have created Sherlock Holmes / horror crossover stories. These are great reads for the month of October, and if you are looking for a fun, new crossover tale of Holmes terror, I highly recommend the new book Sherlock Holmes and the House of Pain from author Stephen Seitz.
I had the opportunity to interview Stephen via email about his new Holmes novel, his other works, and his favorite Holmes tale.
I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: Sherlock Holmes and the The House of Pain is a rip snorting page turner of a book, part mystery and part gothic horror that blends two of Doyle's creations (Holmes and Challenger) along with one of Wells (Moreau). How did you devise and create this genre crossover story?
Stephen Sietz: You can blame my wife. She teaches English at Landmark College (the only college in the U.S. devoted to helping learning disabled students), and she sometimes uses The Island of Dr. Moreau in her science fiction classes. That led me to reading it again for the first time since high school, and I saw its potential right away.
Several things struck me about Wells’ story. First and foremost, it fits nicely into Sherlockian chronology. Obviously, you can’t date a story when Holmes and Watson are clearly doing something else. The other thing, of course, is that Moreau’s experiments and progress developed over time. Moreau said he’d been betrayed by a lab assistant, and the subject of a sensational pamphlet. Immediately, I realized that Holmes must have been that assistant, and the pamphlet written by Holmes’ sleazeball journalist friend, Langdale Pike. Thus, Holmes encounters Moreau at different stages of his research.
The young Challenger came into the picture because I needed a worthy conflict. Dr. Moreau may have been a monster, but how different were his goals from those of modern medicine? Challenger sees the possibilities in Moreau’s work, whereas Holmes only remembers the evil. Moreau simply didn’t have the patience for the usual protocols, because they were getting in his way. I also needed to explain how Moreau could even have his own island and all that specialized equipment. Thus, the Moreau family financial empire.
Finally, everyone likes a good, solid chase, and I’ve never seen one using cargo ships before. What’s the point of writing if you can’t have some fun?
IHOSE: You have also made two other Holmes crossover novels. Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula puts Holmes in Stoker's world. Your novella Never Meant to Be crosses aspects of Wells Time Machine with the Sherlockian universe. What is it that appeals to you about blending Holmes with other characters from Sci-fi and horror literature?SS: I suppose because I have been reading those genres since high school. I discovered Holmes and Dracula as a high school freshman, and have been hooked on Victorian literature ever since, especially tales of the fantastic. (Thanks for your Conan Doyle supernatural books, by the way. The shadow of Sherlock Holmes often obscures too much of ACD's other work. As far as I'm concerned, you've done a great public service.)
I like to think that putting Holmes in a different environment challenges him more as a detective.
There is also the choice of which universe. Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula is in the Sherlockian universe. Sherlock Holmes and the The House of Pain in is Wells'.
My first, Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula, evolved over 20 years. I first had the idea back in either high school or college (that’s how far back this goes), but then I read Loren Estleman’s and Fred Saberhagen’s takes on the Holmes-Dracula idea, and figured nobody would bother publishing mine. But working on it was a pleasant hobby, and after 250 pages or so piled up, I had it professionally edited.
The beauty of that story is that Stoker lays the chronology out down to the minute, and all I had to do was fill the gaps in. After nearly 10 years in print, I can say I’ve been successful.
Never Meant to Be just sort of happened. I love time travel stories, and Cynthia Kenyon showed up and wanted her story to be told. Again, the obvious gateway to the Victorian era was through H.G. Wells’ time machine, and, since we all know that Professor Moriarty was one of the great mathematicians of the Victorian age, why not give him a little more academic credibility and have him develop time theory? I knocked that book off in six weeks. I never do that.
IHOSE: Out of curiosity, have you ever written a traditional Holmes pastiche?SS: The problem with the traditional pastiche is that there’s little room for originality. How many times can Holmes chase Jack the Ripper? How many royal conspiracies can readers stand?
The only way I know around it is to bring Holmes and Watson into actual historical events. I have a couple of stories I put aside because they just weren’t working. There was an assassination in Ireland in the 1880s, for instance, that should have been ideal, but had there really been a Sherlock Holmes, the outcome might have been far different, and I can’t rewrite history.
There is also the question of which Holmes do we want to use? The young detective on the rise? The beekeeper called from retirement? (Remember “His Last Bow.”) Or the old man in the twilight of life, his powers fading, but maybe up to one more challenge? (Kudos, incidentally, to Mr. Holmes. Ian McKellan may well be the first actor to be nominated for an Oscar for playing Sherlock Holmes.)
Were I a better known author, I could get permission from the Dashiell Hammett estate for The Adventure of the Maltese Falcon, which would be terrific, and the James Bond-Holmes novel I outlined long ago will never see the light of day for the same reason.
What can I say? I love crossovers.
IHOSE: You have another detective series, The Ace Herron Mysteries. Tell us a little about that contemporary series? Does Doyle have any influence on your modern detective writing?SS: Ace came about for several reasons. One thing I can’t stand is that modern writers don’t know how news organizations work. They don’t do the first thing to get the authenticity right, and I am heartily sick of female reporters sleeping with people just to get information for a story. That is one cliche which simply has to be squashed. My colleagues are not rapacious sluts. It is instructive that, in over 100 years of cinema, only two films I know of got it right: All the President’s Men, and Jack Webb’s -30-.
I decided to write the stories as they would likely play out in real life, so that doesn’t leave much room for Holmes-like deductions. When I follow criminal cases in real life, I do pretty much what the cops do: talk to as many people as I can to get to know the nature of the event and the people involved. I recall one missing persons case (which became a murder case) where the cops actually left the victim’s car unlocked in her garage. I tossed it for evidence. The difference between fiction and real life is that in fiction, Ace would have found something. I have, in real life, assisted law enforcement and even put a rapist in jail.
Due to the fact that book publishers put more and more of the burden of sales and promotion on the author, I publish these myself through CreateSpace. That way, I know who to blame for slow sales.
IHOSE: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one Sherlock Holmes story, which would it be and why?SS: The Hound of the Baskervilles, of course. It's my introduction to the Sherlockian universe.
I was a freshman in high school, and doing homework in the library until I got bored, and so I checked out Hound. I didn’t put it down until 2 a.m. After that I was hooked on Holmes, and then Victorian literature, for life.
One thing I didn’t know at the time was that Hound represented Holmes’ return from the dead. There is a certain energy and descriptive quality in that novel which makes it stand out. I wonder how Conan Doyle felt as he wrote the story. Did he feel defeat at the fact that he couldn’t keep Holmes dead? Did he feel some elation at being able to write Holmes one more time? Also, 1902, I recall is the year that Conan Doyle became Sir Arthur. I realize the official reason was his writings on the potential of submarines for warfare, but was that the real reason? Could King Edward VII have been a Holmes fan? We’ll probably never know.
IHOSE: What are your upcoming projects?SS: I have completed the third Ace Herron book, titled Presumed Dead. This story intertwines the lives of the Valentinian’s reporters with those of the missing persons cases we all have to cover from time to time. I think it’s got my best twist ending, but the manuscript hasn’t been edited yet.
I hope I will have successfully conveyed the agony of a missing person’s loved ones; these stories are heartbreakers, because as long as someone is missing, there is always an iota of hope that he might come back alive, the war between what the heart wants and what the head knows is probable.
There are those who will ask if I based the story on the disappearance of Tina and Bethany Sinclair, a mother and daughter who vanished in 2001. I have not. One thing which sets this case apart is that everyone knows the name of the person likely responsible, but there is just no solid evidence tying him to the crime. But there is also no one else who could have done it.
I am currently writing a time travel tale centered around the Civil War, one of my lifelong fascinations. In it, we ponder what might have happened had the South won the war, and how my protagonist tries to reset the timeline.
In my dystopia, the Confederate states have evolved into something like South Africa under apartheid; sooner or later, they’d have had to give up slavery just to be able to participate in international commerce. But the South winning was not the way the timeline was supposed to be, and this leads to ruptures in the space time continuum, which leads to many other problems. I am toying with a love triangle across 150 years, but I don’t know how that will go just yet.
I am also brewing a Sherlock Holmes-themed Ace Herron story, mainly for the purpose of bringing Ace to a wider audience. But that doesn’t mean I’ll do less than my best.
IHOSE: Any last thoughts?SS: Just some advice to aspiring writers: you have to keep putting one word in front of the other until things start making sense. Don’t say “I want to become a writer,” as if all there is to it is soaking your hands in warm water for a while and the words will magically appear. Writing is discipline, writing is hard work, it takes some basic native talent to begin with.
The two books you need are Stephen King’s On Writing, and the Strunk and White Elements of Style, third edition. (There is one edition that imposes politically correct gender-free thinking on language, a book best left forgotten.)
Also, read, read, and then read some more. Especially if my name is on the cover.
A lifelong Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula, evolved over a period of more than 20 years and is Steve's first novel. Steve's next Sherlock-themed effort, published by MX Publishing in London, is Never Meant to Be, the story of a 21st century woman who travels to London in the year 1882 and becomes entangled in the world of Sherlock Holmes, not to mention catching the eye of Dr. John Watson. Steve just published Sherlock Holmes and the House of Pain, updating the world on the Giant Rat of Sumatra.
As a collaborator, Steve worked with the late Oliver Douglas on his posthumous memoir, God Made Me Rich.