We're back today with the second part of our "tag team interview" with Stephanie Osborn, acclaimed mystery author and much more. Dora Machado and I had a nice conversation with Stephanie below. Enjoy!
Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse, book 1 in the Gentleman Aegis series, which I just finished reading and simply loved. You can see my review here, if you wish.
Aaron: How long did it take you to write this book, and what prompted you to depart from your current series, Displaced Detective, where we find Sherlock Holmes whisked into the current day?
Stephanie: Oh, it probably takes me longer to research it all, and work out all of the plot details, than it does to actually write it. I think it took me 3-4 months to write, once I had it all in my head what needed to happen. There were some starts and stops initially, and a delay caused by some family crises, but it got done.
How did it come about?
Well, I’ve got this other series, like you mentioned. It’s called the Displaced Detective series, published by Twilight Times Books. It’s been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files.” In it, I yank Sherlock Holmes from an alternate reality’s Victorian era into the modern day, and he can’t go home again. He takes some time to get his footing, and then...the game’s afoot. The series has been called “literary crack,” and even Jerry Pournelle said this “is the real Homes, at the height of his powers, in 21st Century America, much as I would imagine he would be...” There’s five books in the series, with more on the way. So.
Enter this dude named Tommy Hancock. Tommy happens to be the co-publisher and editor in chief of Pro Se Press, one of the movers and shakers in the New Pulp movement. Turns out he’s a fan of the Displaced Detective. So he approached me at a science fiction convention, and asked me to write Holmes for him — only he wanted a more traditional, Holmes and Watson in Victorian Britain, kind of story. So we sat down and talked. We decided what we’d do would be to create a prequel series to the Displaced Detective, so that alternate-reality version of Holmes would have chronicles of his past, with “his” Watson in his original continuum, over and above the adventures shared with Doyle’s alternate reality. And hey presto, the Gentleman Aegis series was born.
So basically, although you won’t see any direct, obvious ties between the two series, what I’m chronicling in the Gentleman Aegis series are the early exploits of the Holmes that ends up in the modern day in the Displaced Detective books. In other words, Gentleman Aegis IS that alternate reality.
Aaron: So glad to hear we have more books in both series to read. I have yet to read book 5 in the Displaced Detective series, and look forward to it. But I meant to ask you above, what does “Aegis” mean and how does it relate to Sherlock?
Stephanie: Ah. Well, we went back and forth a good bit on names for the series, before settling on that one. “Aegis” comes from Greek via Latin, and means “shield.” (The root is actually the Greek for “goat,” ha, but that’s because the early shields were goat hides stretched on wooden frames!) So the series name is a dual pun. The full, formal series name is Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis, and thereby indicates that Holmes is a shield against evil for gentlefolk, and also that he is himself a gentleman and a shield for those in need.
Dora: What kind of reader do you think will enjoy this book and do you think us readers of the Displaced Detective Series will relate to this prequel?
Stephanie: Oh, I think any reader should enjoy this book! I wrote it with a broad readership in mind, even ensuring that it was YA (young adult) suitable! You don’t have to be a Sherlockian to read and enjoy it. All you really need is to have heard of Sherlock Holmes. And since you can show a silhouette of an aquiline-nosed man with a double-brimmed cap and pipe anywhere in the world and get the response, “Sherlock Holmes!” I think that wouldn’t be a problem!
I think that Displaced Detective readers will easily recognize that version of Holmes, albeit much younger (he’s about 15 years younger in Mummy’s Curse than in The Arrival). So yes, I think Displaced Detective fans will enjoy the prequel series.
Aaron: Your description and characterization of Holmes and Watson feel so genuine, so incredibly real. I imagined that you must’ve been a life-long devotee of this character, and that you’ve read, dissected, and re-read all of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Have you seen all of the new series on the BBC for example? Which is your favorite of all these depictions?
Stephanie: Um, yes, rather. I’m pretty good with Holmesian trivia, and I remember back in undergrad school I was on the Physics Dept. trivia team for the campus trivia bowl. There was a question that rambled on about the current Afghan conflict, then asked, “Who said, ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive?’” My finger hit the button before I even thought and my teammates looked at me in horror — because you got docked for wrong answers. The emcee called me, and of course what Holmesophile doesn’t know that’s how Holmes greeted Watson on their first meeting? Even the emcee did a double-take on reading the answer inside the folded card, then turned to the audience and announced in shock, “She’s right!”
I have that big ol’ compendium, you know, the one with the rust-and-mustard colored dust jacket, and I have no idea how many times I’ve read the thing through. And now I have compendia on my Kindle reader app, and on my laptop too.
I do watch the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary series. I don’t think I’ve missed an episode of either. I like them both for different reasons, and I can take them to task on problems each has, for different reasons. I also have seen both Robert Downey Jr. films. I think those would be better if they’d let RDJ do what he can do and disappear into the role, instead of trying to play, “ROBERT! DOWNEY! JUNIOR! IS! SHERLOCK HOLMES!” You know what I mean?
And I’ve seen some of the Basil Rathbone films, and I know a lot of people love them, but I have a hard time getting past Nigel Bruce’s bumbling portrayal of Watson to watch much of those. I think I’ve seen them all at one time or another, but I just want to fling something at Bruce. And of course he set a standard that would be followed for decades.
I even sponsor (and host) some of the old-time radio episodes on a webradio station on Sunday afternoons. It’s called The Sherlock Hour. I enjoy it immensely. (TMVCafe Radio, 4:00pm Eastern, http://www.tmvcafe.com/#!radio/c1e6o )
But my all-time favorite portrayal to date has to be the late Jeremy Brett in the BBC/Grenada productions. They not only stayed as true to the characters and stories as possible, they even went to great effort to recreate some of the original story illustrations in various scenes. It’s sad that he died before they could finish the canon of original Doyle stories.
Aaron: Wow. You really are a true Holmesophile! I remember my mother, who loved all things BBC, telling me her favorite production was with Jeremy Brett. I haven’t seen those, but they are on my list now. For some reason I didn’t enjoy CBS’s Elementary series much, not sure why their actor just didn’t resonate with me. And I agree with the RJD movies – they missed the mark, in my humble opinion. Not that this is about me! Let’s get back to you.
Stephanie: Oh, I think each portrayal has something to recommend it. But frankly I don’t agree with BBC Sherlock’s whole, “high-functioning sociopath” portrayal. My research indicated that all of the symptoms that so many people try to attribute to Holmes being autistic/Aspergers, or bipolar, or whatever — came straight from the drug use. Every last bit. Which is why I portray “my” Holmes as mentally healthy and normal. Now, there are hints to the drug use developing in Mummy’s Curse, but nothing overt. I deliberately had Holmes already weaned from the drugs by the time of the first Displaced Detective book, but that means I’ll need to deal with it at some point during Gentleman Aegis. I hope to handle it delicately and appropriately.
Aaron: Did you ever visit Great Britain, and if so, how did it influence the story? There's a Stonehenge reference in Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse and I wondered if you visited there.
Stephanie: Yes, there is a reference to Holmes assisting Dr. Whitesell — as well as babysitting his young daughter — at a Stonehenge dig when Holmes was a student. But I have not yet had occasion to travel abroad, though I have twice made plans to visit Great Britain (including Stonehenge!) and twice had those plans scuttled at the last minute. That’s incredibly frustrating, because I really want to explore that area! Travel is one of my muses, and it would help my writing a lot, I feel sure. No, it’s simply a good bit of research, coupled with a love of archaeology and a fascination with that particular site...so I keep up with the latest findings.
Aaron: That must’ve been frustrating. I find I have a similar reaction, however, when visiting other cultures. And I know Dora seemed to feel that way after visiting Africa this past summer. (see The Serengeti as a Bestseller) After I visited Germany for work many times, then lived there for 4 months in the late eighties (where we were able to visit most of Europe on long weekends), I found I needed to get my characters over to Germany, Austria, and France so I could basically share all of the sites, sounds, tastes, aromas, etc. of each country. The motivation and inspiration of unique, colorful places is indeed an amazing source of story ideas. (Mazurka, Twilight Times Books)
Stephanie: Yes, I was bitterly disappointed when everything fell through at the very last minute. I hope to manage it one of these days, however. If I have my way, I’ll have a couple of months to spend dinking about Europe.
Aaron: I love food, and I especially enjoyed the discussion of the meals partaken in Egypt out in the desert. Fascinating. How did you get your knowledge of the Egyptian food served in this era? Have you ever been to Egypt?
Stephanie: No, I’ve never yet managed to make it out of the continental USA, I’m afraid. As I mentioned earlier, I keep trying, and stuff keeps happening. No, my attitude is, search engines are your friend! I do a lot of online research for my books — some science, some cultural, some historical, etc. AND I made a point of long conversations with friends and colleagues who HAD been there. (Often these conversations were online also.) You’d be amazed at some of the questions I came up with to ask. “What color is the dirt there? The rocks? How far away are the mountains near X?” Stuff like that.
“Traditional Egyptian foods” happened to be the search string that yielded me the information that ended up making you drool! I looked at the foods that came up, and picked the ones that sounded most intriguing to me. I have to admit, though, I’m a Southern girl, born and reared, and many cultures’ ideas of breakfast are most definitely NOT mine! Still, “When in Rome...” I’m glad you thought it sounded good, because I wasn’t sure about all of it!
Aaron: Oh, yes, you definitely nailed the food part. I already have a penchant for foods of unique flavors, for example, I make a Moroccan chicken dish that uses cinnamon and green olives, and I love some Cuban recipes given to me by Sonia R. Martinez. (link to her book here). Right now I have a bourbon marinated pork loin cooking with red onion wedges, barley, and lots of paprika. Oops, sorry, if I start talking about food, it’s hard to stop me. But your book really whet my palate!
Stephanie: Excellent. I have the same penchant, probably encouraged by my high school language teacher, who used to have parties where everyone was required to bring a dish from another country. Not all of said dishes were successful, but I delighted in sampling them! (And cooking them!) And whenever I do travel, I have a “thing” where I must try at least one meal of the local cuisine. The true, rural Mexican meal I had in south Texas once, fajitas with goat meat and grilled, julienned nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) was positively delicious. And I have had all kinds of interesting meats, ranging from alligator to kangaroo to ostrich and more.
Aaron: Wow! Those sound truly exotic. Stephanie, I want to thank you so much for stopping by MB4 today. We've really enjoyed this interview and wish you the very best with your book.
Stephanie’s Author Page