Had a chance to catch up with an interesting Sherlockian author – Andrew Salmon, and ask him a few questions about his books. Here you are:
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I have a BA in Creative Writing. My wife and moved to Vancouver, BC because we fell in love with the city and province and here I set about trying to launch a writing career. After numerous rejection slips, my second published work was nominated for the Ellis Award (Canada's version of the Edgar). I didn't win but the nomination certainly validated what I was trying to do. From there, I became part of the New Pulp movement that started up right around the e-revolution in publishing. Both of these have allowed me to be published, get nominated and win awards, and make money doing what I love. I've come a long way but the best is yet to come. I'm a big fan of mysteries, pulp fiction of all genres, and Holmes of course.
2. How did you meet Sherlock Holmes? Why did you choose to write about him?
I've always been aware of Sherlock Holmes. Even though I came to the canon late, I'd seen the movies, TV shows, cartoons and comics. I'd listened to the radio plays in High School English class. Holmes is everywhere, embedded in pop culture and is one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the history of fiction. Coming to the canon after being bombarded for many years with interpretations of the characters was a godsend because the way the characters are presented in Doyle's stories is unsurpassed and quite different than other versions over the years. So with all that backlog of exposure, it was an eye-opening treat to encounter the tales themselves.
Just as I came to the canon in a roundabout way, the same could be said for how I came to write Holmes tales. I was working for Airship 27, a publisher of pulp fiction, and the editor there let me know they were going to do a Holmes anthology - the first in their best selling, award winning Consulting Detective series. I was offered a spot in the anthology. I turned it down. Not because I didn't want to write a Holmes tale, but, rather, because I didn't think I was qualified. As I said above, my exposure to Holmes was outside the canon - at that point I'd read A STUDY IN SCARLET and THE SIGN OF FOUR in a Mystery Fiction class I took in college and that was it as far as the canon went. Having such respect for what Doyle achieved with the characters, who was I to undertake creating a new Holmes story? But the idea stayed with me. I mulled over just how important Holmes and Watson were, their titanic status in the pantheon of great fictional characters and finally realized that I simple could not pass up the chance to write about them. Luckily the spot was still open by the time I came to this conclusion and the assignment was mine.
Next I dove into the canon, read every story and the novels. What jumped out at me was how different, and better, the characters were than the versions I'd seen. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson, the language, the great plots - I was in Heaven! From there the plot for my first tale popped into my head. It was so simple and so tied into the history of the characters that I was sure someone had done it before. Fingers crossed, I hunted through the mountains of pastiches and, to my relief, found no tale that used the plot. It was a simple exploration as to why 221B Baker St. was available for Holmes and Watson to move in - because the previous tenant had been murdered.
I finished up the tale entitled "The Adventure of the Locked Room" and sent it off. It was accepted and appeared in SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE Volume One. To my surprise and satisfaction, the tale was an instant hit with readers and the reviews let me know I'd gotten it right. But then the story was nominated that year for the New Pulp Awards in the category of Best Pulp Short Story! And it won! I needed no other indicator that I was on the right track with Holmes. I signed up for Volume Two from Airship 27 and wound up having in tales in the first 5 anthologies in that series. I've published 7 Holmes tales to date, 5 of which have been nominated for awards (two won) and there are more on the horizon.
Along with millions of readers, I've come to love the characters and having them roll around in my head is a joy. It's gotten to the point that they have conversations between my ears on various subjects and all I can do is write down what they say. It's scary but it's a good kind of scary. It's not a bad thing to have Holmes and Watson in your head.
3. You are quite a prolific author. Which of your own books is your favourite?
It's hard to pick one as I've enjoyed writing them all. My most recent Holmes book: SHERLOCK HOLMES: BLOOD TO THE BONE is a favorite not only because I got a chance to shine the spotlight on the world of women's Victorian boxing (yes, it did exist) but also because of the way a personal tragedy (my wife and I lost our dear friend suddenly) wove its way into the tale to the point that the female boxer in the tale took the name of our departed friend and the book is dedicated to her as well. So that one will always mean a lot to me. A favorite? I'll have to go with THE LIGHT OF MEN. It took 12 years researching/writing the gut-wrenching tale of a Nazi concentration camp in a way not portrayed to date and the novel took a lot out of me. Hearing from war veterans, having the novel included in the Holocaust Memorial Museum library in the US have been great honors so, yeah, THE LIGHT OF MEN is the book I'm most proud of.
4. How did the Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective series start?
The Editor and Art Director of Airship 27, Ron Fortier and Rob Davis respectively, are life-long Holmes fans. Looking around at the mountain of Holmes material that has come out since the characters entered the public domain, they saw that a lot of the stories dealt with fantastical elements: Holmes vs. Dracula, Holmes vs. Martians, Holmes vs. Ghosts/Spirits/Zombies what have you. So they decided to do something different: straight up Holmes mysteries - the kind Doyle wrote. No guest stars, team-ups or supernatural villains. And I think this is part of the reason the books have been successful. Holmes doesn't need any help in holding the attention of readers by throwing in other pop culture icons. Sure, these types of stories can be fun, but just good old fashions mysteries is where Holmes is at his best. Give him an intricate problem, turn him loose and read along as he gets it figured out. With the monumental popularity Holmes is experiencing these days, it's safe to say this formula is tried and true. And it's working for Airship 27's anthology line.
5. Fight Card and Sherlock Holmes crossover…why?
This concept came about at a pulp fiction convention. The Fight Card Books editor, Paul Bishop, was at the convention promoting the line, which consists of 30,000 word boxing stories in the same vein as the great pulp writers of the 30s, 40s, 50s such as Robert E Howard and countless others. In preparing the titles by numerous writers (published as ebooks under the house name Jack Tunney while the print version bears the author's name), he was struck by how many different ways there were to tell a good boxing story and at the convention writers started throwing around ideas during some down time from their tables. Someone threw out the idea of doing a Sherlock Holmes boxing tale as his fighting prowess is alluded to in THE SIGN OF FOUR and is indirectly on display in "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" and there's the mentioned Charing-Cross assault by Mr. Mathews in "The Adventure of the Empty House" where Holmes had a tooth knocked out, so Paul knew a Holmes boxing story was well within the canonical context. If Holmes was so accomplished a boxer that retired pugilist McMurdo in THE SIGN OF FOUR states that Holmes could have turned professional, well, the great detective had to learn how to box first, right?
On that foundation, Paul warmed to the idea immediately and asked the assembled writers who they thought could pull such off such a tale. My name got thrown out there and it was unanimously agreed that I was the writer to give a Holmes boxing tale a try. Paul got in touch with me and I was bowled over by the confidence both he and the writers at the con had in me and agreed on the spot.
As for the "why" of your question, it was a great challenge to explore an aspect of Holmes that Doyle touches on but does not delve into. It's a thread in the tapestry of the canon that begged to be tugged at. For the first one: SHERLOCK HOLMES: WORK CAPITOL, I touched on the references Doyle made to Holmes and boxing. The tale begins with the exhibition bout McMurdo mentions in THE SIGN OF FOUR and includes the scene with Mr. Mathews in "The Empty House. Reading the initial backlash against the Downey films because they showed Holmes using his fists left me perplexed as the scenes mentioned above are from the canon and so I fleshed them out. There is a logic to it as well. The Victorian period was a dangerous time, Holmes and Watson are involved in dangerous work. They would HAVE to know how to defend themselves or they wouldn't be in business for very long. A Holmes boxing tale is a natural extension of the canon. Some life-long Holmes readers have paid me the ultimate compliment with regards to my two Holmes books for Fight Card in stating that when they sat down to read SHERLOCK HOLMES: WORK CAPITOL and SHERLOCK HOLMES: BLOOD TO THE BONE, they didn't feel like they were reading pastiche, they felt like they were reading Doyle! This level of reaction floored me. Not only because it's the highest praise any Sherlockian scribe can receive but also because we were showing Holmes in a different light while at the same time trying to retain the flavor of the canon.
This is why I'm so excited that those first two Fight Card Sherlock Holmes books are part of Kindle Unlimited in India as well as other parts of the world. There are so many Holmes titles available that it can be daunting to know where to begin. Being able to sample mine and the work of others for free with the program is fantastic for Sherlockians the world over. And of course print versions are available if a reader wants to complete their library. Fight Card Books is a small outfit but they do great work. My Holmes titles have been enjoyed by those who have found them and Kindle Unlimited gives us the chance to get the work out to more fans risk free. Getting the work into the hands of Sherlockians is what it's all about in the end.
6. If you had to choose your three favourite canonical tales, what would you say?
In no particular order:
"The Adventure of the Empty House"
"The Final Problem"
"The Adventure of the Second Stain"
7. What do you think is the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche ever written?
I wish I could answer this question. The thing is, I can't read Holmes pastiches. Not because I don't want to, I do. It's more of an occupational hazard. Permit to explain. I was invited to be part of a different type of Holmes anthology that has yet to be released, one that incorporated magical elements as well as other things. My story certainly dealt with magic. Having written only straight up, traditional Holmes mysteries up to this point, I decided to give some of the fantasy pastiches a try. I enjoyed the tales but found, as I was reading them, that my Watson voice got lost with the host of Watson voices I was reading. I reached for it and it was gone! That was a scary few moments as I hunted my brain for it and tremendous relief when I found it. You see, my Watson voice sprang from reading the canon exclusively. This was the foundation. Being suddenly flooded with a host of other voices threw me off. So, for the time being, I have to stay away from the works of my fellow Sherlockians. I hope, with time and more Holmes tales under my belt, that will change and I can enjoy what others have come up with. For now, I can't.
8. Do tell us about Jim Anthony and your other works, too.
I love classic pulp fiction. Most readers are familiar with characters like The Shadow and Doc Savage but there were 100s of great characters during that Golden Age. Most of these characters have been forgotten for decades and fell into the public domain like Holmes. A host of publisher have sprung up to not only reprint the classic tales but also to create new stories with these wonderful characters.
One of whom is Jim Anthony, Super Detective. The Doc Savage magazine was such a hit in the early 1930s that a rival company simply came up with a version of that character, Jim Anthony. He was described back in the 1930s as Half-Comanche, Half-Irish but All-American which has a great nostalgic ring. Like Doc Savage, Anthony was a combination of Holmes and Superman (though without any super powers). Anthony was a world-travelling adventurer who would solve mysteries, stop villains from destroying the world or a city, catch criminals - fun stuff.
As are the other characters I've gotten to work with. The Moon Man is my favorite pulp hero - the Robin Hood of the pulps who stole from gangsters to help the people these bad guys exploited. Secret Agent X is another fun character to write. A 1930s spy who is a master of disguise. Thunder Jim Wade is another version of Doc Savage, solving mysteries and having adventures. Lynn Lash, a character created by Lester Dent who created Doc Savage, was as close to Holmes as any of the pulp detectives. Lash was a police consultant, examining crime scenes, collecting clues to fantastic mysteries. It was an honor to work with this character as it was Dent's Doc Savage that first introduced me to classic pulp fiction, which lead to me writing Holmes. The Black Bat shares many elements with Batman (though not deliberately) as well as Daredevil and he's a lot of fun. Rick Ruby is a new character cut from the mold of the classic hardboiled private eye and was a lot of fun to write.
I've also been able to create my own characters in my novels THE LIGHT OF MEN, THE DARK LAND and GHOST SQUAD: Rise of the Black Legion which I co-wrote with Ron Fortier. I discussed THE LIGHT OF MEN above so we won't delve into it again. THE DARK LAND is a near-future science-fiction novel dealing with cloned police officers in the wake of a disastrous pandemic as they try to keep the peace while the world's in pieces. GHOST SQUAD is a 1930s adventure team assembled to deal with the machinations of the Black Legion and their secretive leader.
9. If Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson read your books, what do you think they would say to you?
That's a great question. I would hope they would appreciate the steps I've taken to present their friendship honestly. They are great friends and this is often overlooked in the canon as the plot's the thing. I think Watson would be grateful of my inclusion of his medical knowledge: fixing the tooth Holmes lost in Charing-Cross in WORK CAPITOL, reminding him of the danger to his brain boxing poses in BLOOD TO THE BONE and saving his life with emergency surgery in "The Adventure of the Invisible Assassin" in Consulting Detective Vol. 5. I would hope Holmes wouldn't mind that I've shown off his physical ability in addition to his vast mental capabilities and did so honestly through research and getting the facts straight - something we know is vitally important to him. I'll have to ask them the next time they start conversing in my head. I'm sure they'll let me know. Ha!
10. Thoughts on Sherlockian societies all over the world…?
Holmes is a worldwide phenomenon! Legions of fans everywhere! When the first volume of the Consulting Detective series came out, I helped with the promotions and contacted Sherlockian societies in 20 countries, including India! Most societies were very receptive and helped to spread the word. There were some that stick only to the canon and look down on any pastiche without reading them but I was surprised, grateful and pleased to see how many Sherlockians just want to read good Sherlock Holmes stories. That's somewhat rare in fandom generally. Look at the mountains of pastiche! Thousands of books and stories over the years and the willingness of Sherlockians to read as many of them as they can speaks to their love of the characters. It's fantastic! Whereas many in pop culture fandom look down their noses at any pastiche of anything, Sherlockians so love Holmes and Watson that they welcome new works with open arms. I've been in touch with many fans who have hundreds of Holmes books in their personal libraries and see their posts on facebook regularly where they show off their latest acquisitions. This kind of loyal, dedicated and, most importantly, enthusiastic fanbase is one of the joys of writing Holmes tales today because you know your story or book will be greeting with excitement by Sherlockians. They won't be reading with a steely eye looking for a mistake they can beat their chests and crow about finding. Rather, they'll pick up the work with the excitement of seeing what Holmes and Watson are up to and hope the writing does Doyle's creations justice. I've thoroughly enjoyed interacting with Sherlockians. It's helped my work because I know who my audience is when I sit down to write another Holmes tale. Because of their unbridled enthusiasm, I know I can't let them down. Sherlockians revel in discovering well-written Holmes tales and you want to repay that by giving them a story they can sink their teeth into. So far, it looks like I've done that and it feels great!
11. Do you think the film/TV adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are generally true to the original? Which is your favourite? What do you think of the three trending Sherlocks of our time – the Guy Ritchie movies, BBC Sherlock and PBS Elementary?
I enjoy Sherlock a great deal. Although the Watson depiction could be a little stronger I really like Cumberbatch's take on the character. He's got the arrogance and brilliance of Holmes as well as the fish out of water element that softens him a might. The capture the spirit of the characters and the canon. And the shows have great pacing.
I love the Guy Ritchie films obviously even though the second one took the action element a little too far. The first one struck a nice balance of showing Holmes as a man of action derived from the canon and the mixed martial arts style of Baritsu that Holmes uses. The second movie relied too much on the running and jumping best left to other action stars. I enjoyed both films but liked the first one better. Still looking forward to the third one as well.
I've not seen Elementary. Watson is my favorite character of the dynamic duo and I just don't see him as a woman. That, plus modern day Holmes is already being done so well on Sherlock, has kept me away from the series. It appears to be doing well, which again speaks to the insatiable appetite of Sherlockians.
12. If you could bring one canonical character to life, who would you choose?
I'd have to go with Watson. I love the guy! He's smart, capable, easy going, he's knocked around the world and knows how to have fun. He'd fit into the modern world better than Holmes would and be much more agreeable company. Ha!
13. Why do you think Sherlock Holmes remains so popular even now?
I wish I knew. He inhabits a world that no longer exists. Expresses himself in a manner no one today uses. The trappings from clothing to manners have all changed. The methods he used, though fundamental, have been overshadowed by technology. And, let's face it, he's not the nicest of people. Yet he's beloved all over the world. There's a mystery for Holmes to solve. I see it as similar to the question of why Downton Abbey is so popular. Stuffy British folks of a bygone age fascinate viewers all over the world? Why? Perhaps it's part romance, nostalgia, a harkening for a "simpler" time coupled with great characters and engaging plots. Holmes and Watson have fascinated readers since the beginning. As a fan myself, I can't point to any one thing as the reason. I guess it's just a stew that remains tasty no matter how long it sits in the fridge.
14. What should we expect next from you on the Sherlockian front?
I have a tale that's part of the anthology I mentioned earlier. The tale is finished and ready to go. The editor is still shopping the book around. I'm currently writing my third FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES for a December release with Kindle Unlimited. I've got an idea for a Holmes novel that is starting to come together. Until that's ready, I'll be writing more Holmes after a short break early next year to clear up some other writing projects, including James Bond if all goes well. I'm always open to any publishers looking for Holmes material so we'll see what comes along. Holmes is where the heart is so I'm going to continue writing Holmes tales. I love doing it, readers enjoy reading my efforts - sounds like a match made in Heaven to me! Interested parties can keep track of my releases here:
15. Any advice/words of wisdom for Sherlockians…?
Advice? Keep reading. Sherlockians are the best fans in the world. Words of wisdom? We're fans of Sherlock Holmes, a man who takes in all the information he can before he makes a judgment. That's not a bad way to conduct oneself in today's world of streaming headlines. We'll all be better off in using the Holmes method. Get the facts, consider them, take the time to reach a conclusion. Slow and steady wins the race. It's elementary.