If Walls Could Talk: Keeping Your Inspiration

M.H. Norris

The other night I was lying in bed goofing off on my phone after having a rather tough discussion with a few authors. Remember that series I did a few weeks ago about the not-so-fun side of writing? Yeah, it was one of those.

Well, I was on my phone and a writing group I’m in sent a notification. Someone had sent a message talking about something and asking for advice. After a brief discussion she asked how we were and I said I was suffering from writer’s block (true) and was dealing more with the business side of things today than actual writing.

It led into a discussion and I gave a piece of advice and then realized that it was a blog post in the making.

inspiration

It’s been awhile since I used this analogy but sharing your writing with the world can best be compared to standing in a line waiting to be picked for a team in gym class. It also producing a feeling like you are sitting there naked, waiting for judgment.

Part of that is writing is personal and sharing it with the world is hard. I’ve been a part of critique groups for years and I still find it hard to share my work. The reasoning behind it changes now and then but the base feeling hasn’t gone away.

That’s part of the writing process.

What good is your manuscript sitting on your computer hard drive?

It’s not perfect?

So what?

To be honest, it’s never going to be perfect. Badge City: Notches doesn’t even have a period in the first sentence and I won an award for that book.

James doesn’t let that die though…

Far too often I see writers who aren’t ready to share their work.

“It’s not perfect.”

“I just want it to be further along.”

“I want it to be better, be closer to my vision.”

Story time with Mary Helen.

I knew someone who working on a project and instead of pushing it out in the world they kept holding off, doing revision after revision. They added characters, added new and shiny subplots.

They still haven’t made it far with that project and its been years.

Last I saw it, I didn’t recognize it for the project I’d fallen in love with. They’d shared the concept with me and it sounded fun and fascinating and I was helping them with it.

But in their desire to make it perfect, I feel like they lost their vision.

They lost what made it good, I think they lost a bit of what inspired them to start the project in the first place. In their desire to make it something people would love or find revolutionary this creator lost something.

Which is sad.

Because the concept I heard years ago had so much potential. But they lost their way.

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I question if I’m about due for another rewatch of Psych. After all, that was the show that helped inspire me to write Badge City. I heard someone once say that people are like sponges, they need to soak up inspiration before they can pour it out. And far too often, I find myself going and going and not giving myself time to remember why I write.

All I think is what’s the next book, the next short story, the next case, the next mystery, James should I lower the body count this time…

Don’t get me wrong, I still love writing.

I just have to remind myself why I write in the first place. I have to remind myself not to lose sight of that.

And remind myself that no matter how bad I feel about my work I do need to let it out into the world.

Or at least into James’ inbox.

So let me leave you with some parting questions.

Why do you write?

And what’s stopping you for sharing it with the world?

New Book: After Avalon

After Avalon - Nicole Petit

King Arthur is dead. Camelot has fallen. Britain drowns in Saxons.

These are the stories of what came after.

Merlin’s prophecies begin such, in introduction:

“In the days when Arthur’s dream was dimmed, as grey embers under storm, actors from our reverie still ventured forth. A boy enters decaying Broceliande with the May Hawk’s daughter, both in search of fathers. Sir Gawain, bereft of his nation, rides in search of my tomb—but finds a friend turned enemy. In the Britain’s hour of need, the round table will be restored to defend Logres in the sky, in the London Blitz.

“My tutor, Bleys, will take a fool’s horse, and two adventurers will trace my dying steps across the world. Sir Lionel’s remains will visit the remains of the Arthurian world, and the Victorians will strive to make a gentleman of Mordred. The Questing Beast will never cease to haunt Pellinore’s line, no matter how far north they trend. The old witch, Morgan, will seek forgiveness. The holy lance will appear once more. And a queen who is no longer a queen will meet a knight who is no longer a knight, and both will marvel at the grave of the greatest king who served his country.

“These may be read, in full, inside.

“But I am tired now, and Nimue calls for me…”

An all-new anthology from the award-winning curator Nicole Petit, featuring stories by Colin Fisher, Leigh Ann Cowan, Amy Wolf, Thomas Olivieri, Jon Black, Patricia S. Bowne, Claudia Quint, David Wiley, Christian Bone, Patrick S. Baker, and Elizabeth Zuckerman.

Purchasing from 18thWall Productions brings you After Avalon in PDF, Mobi/Kindle, and EPUB.

Purchase from 18thWall Productions

Purchase the print edition from Amazon.com

Purchase the print edition from Amazon.co.uk

No Ghosts Need Apply: A Chat with Aaron Smith

James Bojaciuk

The Sherlock Holmes stories may be the most copied form of literature, pastiched and paraded by more authors than even the dedicated Sherlockian can count.

It was my pleasure to sit down with one of the modern masters of the form, Aaron Smith, and pick his brain on Sherlock Holmes and the mechanics of his character and universe. Recently, his latest Sherlock Holmes story, The Cocoon of His Dreams, was released by 18thWall Productions.

The Cocoon of His Dreams

1) It’s time for the question every Holmesian author is confronted with, sooner or later. How did you discover Sherlock Holmes? What does he mean to you?

I’m sure I was aware of Sherlock Holmes from a very young age. You can’t miss him since he’s so iconic and images of him show up everywhere from movies to Sesame Street characters based on him. So I knew who he was and the basics of his character, such as him being a detective and having a partner named Watson, but it wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I really got interested in him.

I walked into the living room one evening as my father was watching an episode of the Jeremy Brett TV series (“The Devil’s Foot” was the one), so I sat down and watched it with him and became captivated by the strangeness of the story and the intensity of the character. I was so impressed that I wanted to read the original stories. My grandfather heard about this and dug out the old Complete Sherlock Holmes book he’d had since he was a child (a beautiful, massive red hardcover published in 1938) and gave it to me as a Christmas present. I read the whole Doyle canon over the course of several months and was hooked on Holmes for life. At the time, of course, I never dreamed that I might someday get a chance to write my own Holmes stories and have people pay to read them! That still amazes me after almost a decade of doing this.

As for what Holmes means to me, he’s my all-time favorite fictional character, a constant companion for me over the years via the Doyle stories and the work of the authors who followed Doyle, and the countless film and TV versions of the character, some of which I love and some of which I loathe. Visiting 221B Baker Street, whether by rereading Doyle or through watching Jeremy Brett or Peter Cushing or Basil Rathbone or Arthur Wontner portray the Great Detective or by the process of working on one of my own Holmes stories is like going home. I’m comfortable in that world, within that concept, with those characters. Also, Holmes was my gateway drug to the whole mystery genre. It started with Holmes and that led me to other fictional detectives, with some of my favorites being Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, and Cadfael, and, on TV, Peter Falk’s brilliant portrayal of Columbo (when the TV powers that be get around to rebooting/ recasting that one, I promise you my head will explode!).

And I know I’m going on at some length about this, but Holmes is important to me on another level too, and I suspect this has helped make him so popular, though I don’t know if many people even realize this is happening in there. Or maybe I’m the only one who sees this. I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve sometimes thought that it’s the combination of Holmes and Watson as two very different characters that sort of come together to make up what you might call the ideal personality for a heroic character. It’s just split in two to make it more dramatic and, of course, to allow for the wonderful concept of Watson narrating the stories (which enables the reader to see the genius Holmes through the eyes of the reasonably intelligent but not superhumanly so Watson, who represents us). But if you put Holmes and Watson together, you get an entity that contains all the attributes of a human being at his best: from Holmes we get the vast intellect and the ability to use it well, plus the “I am who I am and I don’t give a damn what you think of me” attitude that we all sometimes wish we could use in everyday life, and then from Watson we get bravery, loyalty, and true good-heartedness. That’s a hell of a fine combination between the two of them and I think that dynamic is a big part of what makes Holmes and Watson so special to their readers. On a side note, it’s very much the same equation of personalities (with an added number to the operation) that gave Star Trek’s trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy such appeal.

So, yes, Sherlock Holmes means a lot to me. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, he means paychecks too, and those are always welcome!

Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

2) Your Van Helsing is significantly inspired by Peter Cushing’s. How did you discover his Dracula series, and what about it continues to inspire you?

I’ve been a fan of Dracula, in his many forms as a character, for probably longer than I’ve been interested in Holmes. Dracula is my favorite fictional villain, whether in Stoker’s novel or the countless film versions (most of which don’t follow the book much at all) or in the brilliant Marvel Comics series Tomb of Dracula from the 1970s. So of course I’m interested in the Hammer Dracula movies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Christopher Lee is my favorite screen Dracula and Peter Cushing is my favorite Van Helsing. In fact, Peter Cushing just might be my favorite actor ever. He was equally great at playing good or evil, and he was also a superb Sherlock Holmes. His Van Helsing was quite different than the way Bram Stoker portrayed the character. The Cushing Van Helsing is, like his literary counterpart, a scientist who also knows a lot about the supernatural and occult, but he’s also a man of action and will go to any lengths to stop the plague that vampires are to humanity. Whereas Van Helsing in the novel was one of an ensemble cast of heroes facing Dracula, the Hammer version is the main hero of the films he appears in. He’s really in the spotlight and Cushing’s masterful portrayal makes him as important a part of those films as Dracula is. Those movies and that character, much like Holmes, I suppose, appeal to me on two levels. One, they’re good stories, good enough to be enjoyed over and over again and find something new about on each viewing. Two, they’re like old friends, worth revisiting often for sentimental reasons.

3) You’ve written about your take on Van Helsing before. Tell us more about that.

Last year, April Moon Books, which is a fantastic publisher I had worked with once before on a giant monsters anthology called Stomping Grounds, did a book called Spawn of the Ripper, which featured short stories paying tribute to the Hammer horror movies. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a stab at writing a story about Van Helsing, with my version being mostly inspired by Peter Cushing’s portrayal.

Spawn of the Ripper

The story is called “The Blood-soaked Sand” and takes place in the late 1800s when Van Helsing joins an old friend who happens to be an Egyptologist, along with the friend’s daughter, a British soldier who’s traveled there to meet the Egyptologist, and several others on a dig some distance from Cairo. The group finds a bunch of mummies in a series of tombs, but the joy of discovery is interrupted when vampires, who seem to have followed Van Helsing there seeking revenge for what happened to Dracula, attack the camp. The group, led by Van Helsing, has to find a rather novel solution to the problem.

I tried to make the story as much like a Hammer movie as possible. Judging by some of the reviews, I succeeded, at least in the eyes of some readers, one of whom said it felt like “the perfect extra installment in Hammer’s Dracula series.” That’s one of my favorite phrases I’ve ever seen in a review of my work!

4) This story is one of a growing number that confront Holmes with the supernatural, but you found a unique take on it that doesn’t violate Holmes’ perception of the world. It’s a clever solution to the problem so many authors face. Why do you think Holmes should be spared direct encounters with monsters and weird powers?

Sherlock Holmes is successful as a detective because of the way his mind works and how he has trained that mind to be as sharp as humanly possible. He’s very, very good at observing details, and he categorizes those details like a scientist so that he can very easily bring them back up to the surface of his mind. He notices things, finds out what they indicate, and recalls those answers as needed in a way that often seems to others to be almost superhuman. A sight, a smell, a sound, a taste, or a texture enters the attention of Holmes and his mind automatically recalls what it probably signifies. He then takes another detail and adds it to the first and repeats the process until all those little bits of information, like the words in a sentence or the numbers in an equation, tell him the whole story of whatever or whoever he’s examining. The trick is that he does it so quickly that it impresses or shocks or scares whoever he’s doing it in front of!

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume 4

For example, if Holmes looked at my hands, he’d probably notice the little calluses on the fingertips of my left hand but not my right and conclude, based on the shape and size and placement of those patches of tough skin, that I play the guitar. He might then conclude that although I play the way a right-handed person does, which is by pressing the instrument’s frets with the left fingers and picking or strumming with the right, I’m actually left-handed because he would have also noted the spot on my left middle finger where the pen presses when I write. Writing with the left hand usually indicates a southpaw (or an ambidextrous person, but those are quite rare), but many left-handed people play guitar the way a right-handed person does. And I’m sure he’d go further and find little hints on my clothes and shoes to tell him what I do for a day job, etc, etc, etc.

But the key to Holmes’ talent is that he memorized what things mean and that means that physical phenomena has to follow certain rules or laws and remain consistent.

Doyle’s stories, as dramatic and interesting and sometimes downright weird as they are, could very easily take place in the real world, and that’s also part of their appeal, at least for me, and, I suspect, for many other Holmes fans.

Now, if you insert the supernatural into Holmes’ world, it does two things that I find rather awkward in most cases. First, it takes Holmes out of the rather realistic world that Doyle portrayed him as inhabiting. Second, it makes his unique set of skills far less potent as tools of his trade, because a reality with ghosts and goblins hiding in random shadows and vampires stalking the foggy streets of London and all sorts of other strange happenings no longer abides by laws that can be understood by realistic observation and categorization. In such a world, Sherlock Holmes becomes far less effective as an investigator because things don’t work so consistently. If you bring in magic and mysticism and too many supernatural variables, the concreteness of reality is lost and Holmes can’t be certain of anything, and that certainty, or at least a series of very educated guesses, is his great weapon against the ignorant and unobservant.

Is it possible to write a good Holmes story set in a world where the supernatural exists? Yes, I think it is, and I hope my “The Cocoon of his Dreams” is one of those successes, but it should be done sparingly, I think.

I’ve actually vowed to not use the supernatural in my regular series of Sherlock Holmes stories for Airship 27 Productions (not that editor Ron Fortier would let me get away with that anyway!) because I prefer to stick to the way Doyle portrayed Holmes, at least most of the time.

While “The Cocoon of his Dreams” contains the character of Holmes, as well as several prominent members of his usual supporting cast, it’s not one of my pure Holmes mysteries, but, rather, a Van Helsing story that just happens to include a version of Holmes and his world.

And even with “Cocoon,” while happily suspending my self-imposed rule against supernatural Holmes stories (think of this one, if you will, as an alternate reality to the one in which most of my Holmes tales take place), I could not bring myself to have Holmes be fully aware of the strange events that surround him, for that would break the concept of who he is. I hope readers are satisfied with the solution I came up with to make a path around the problem. I’m not going to say exactly what that is, though, because I want to leave surprises for when they read the story!

5) Where can our readers follow you on social media?

I can be followed on Twitter as @AaronSmith377

On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001125888963

I have a blog at www.godsandgalaxies.blogspot.com

And anyone interested in my work is welcome to join my mailing list at http://amazon.us12.list-manage2.com/subscribe?u=f1d3a093669610c1d383d044b&id=ff9a9205ed

Thank you, Aaron. The Cocoon of His Dreams is available now on Kindle, from Amazon, and on Kindle, EPUB, and PDF from 18thWall Productions.

The Cocoon of His Dreams

After the Talk Ended: An Interview with Hannah Lackoff (Part Two)

M.H. Norris

After the first part of our interview, I couldn’t wait to sit down with Hannah Lackoff again. Her answers are excellent, and carefully in-depth. If her name catches in your memory, Hannah recently released her first collection After the World Ended, and a gothic Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band.

This week, we released a free ebook collecting some of Hannah’s favorite and award-winning stories from After the World Ended as a teasing enticement of what wonders you’ll find in the full book.

1) Welcome back, Hannah. Today we’d love to talk about your new collection, After the World Ended. In the book’s description, there’s a statement about how “like so many great authors before her settles in with the bones of old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends and builds them into her exhibits.” What brings old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends to your attention, and inspires you?

I love taking a story everybody already knows and delving deeper into it and finding out what really happened.  These stories are already in our collective consciousness and make a great background.  There’s something to be said about really understanding your source material and allowing it to create something entirely new yet still familiar.  It’s comforting and also strange, and allows a writer (as well as a reader) to pay attention to different things.  It’s great exercise for the brain.

2) What drove you to use them as source material?

I find them hard to escape, actually.  They are a great jumping off point in so many different ways: you can keep the story basically the same but focus on a different character, you can take a familiar trope and turn it on its head, you can use an ancient structure to say something about a current issue.  Reading a fairy tale or watching a horror movie and wondering “what if?” is a great source of inspiration and a potential cure for writer’s block.

Lately I’ve been really interested in taking these common genres or tropes and removing a key element:  An outer space adventure without the aliens, a ghost story where it turns out there is no ghost, a superhero without any powers.  Things that sound fantastical or magical but turn out to have a perfectly logical explanation- or do they?  I love a story that could explain everything but choses not too; a story that assumes its reader is smart enough to figure it out on their own.

after-the-world-ended_kindle

3) How did you select those 18 short stories for After the World Ended?

At the time, these stories were the bulk of what I had written.  As I looked them over, I realized that they all had a common theme: someone’s world was ending, in a small way or a big one.  Sometimes it was literal, as in the title story, but sometimes it was smaller; the death of a loved one, a divorce, strange weather or an impulsive phone call.  Each story contains a fundamental shift in a character’s world view.  Worlds are ending all the time, everywhere you look.

4) Your characters have unusual, powerful names. What inspires these? How much time do you spend picking out the right name?

Names are very important to me. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to find the right one and sometimes the character springs to life fully formed, complete with a name.  For example, Sturgeon and Petrel were always named Sturgeon and Petrel, and the rest of the story kind of developed around them.  But in “The Mirror,” I wanted the names to have literal meaning, and spent some time looking on databases of Russian names and their meanings.  I spend a lot of time on baby name websites and google translate, either looking for a name that means something or one that just feels right.

5) “After the World Ended,” the story, is such a great post-apocalyptic story. You never mention the nature of the apocalypse. Do you think that is essential to the tension and storytelling?

My focus on this story was not on what happened to end the world, but rather what happened later (hence the “after”).  I didn’t want to focus on the details of a pandemic, or a nuclear holocaust, or an alien invasion, or any of the other things that could have gone wrong.  It doesn’t matter to the plot what happened before the story opens; except for the fact that we don’t have any idea what happened, and so we have to take the characters word for it.  The reader is dropped right into the middle of the story (or maybe the end of a different story; the one about the pandemic or the nuclear holocaust or the alien invasion) and has to hit the ground running.  And in the end, it’s not about the whole world at all, but just about the world of one family.

6) When you write about loneliness and the loss of a loved one, it’s particularly heartbreaking. On the TVCU podcast, the hosts kept mentioning how much you made them cry. How do you put so much emotion into your stories? Do you have a certain writing technique? Is it all about putting yourself into that frame of mind as you write—or something else?

It just happens!  I don’t mean to make everything I write dark or sad or difficult- but that’s what seems to come out.  For an example, “The Dead Do Not Come Back At Night” was my attempt to write a ghost story, but it turned into what I was talking about earlier- a ghost story without a ghost.  Some of this certainly stems from fairy tales and myths; more often than not those are pretty grim, but a lot of it is all my own.

Rather than putting myself in the frame of mind to write something sad or dark, I put myself in the frame of mind of the character I’m creating and let them tell the story.  I find it especially easy to write these kinds of stories from the point of view of children or younger adults.  Not only are their emotions bigger and closer to the surface, but everything is new to them.  They have no frame of reference yet.  Everything is possible.

7) “The Mirror” is one of our favorite stories. In the afterword to the story, in Those Who Live Long Forgotten, you mention many more stories that use magic mirrors.  Do you think you’ll ever write a sequel, expanding on those old bones?

I am currently working on a novel that expands on Grisha and An’s story.  I found there was so much more to it than a short story could explore, and I couldn’t get them out of my mind.  There are more retold fairy tales that go along with their story, though none of them use magic mirrors in quite the same way that “The Mirror” did.

There are so many stories that use literal mirrors, and so many more that use mirrors as a metaphor, whether it be reflections, doubles, shadows, parallel worlds, etc.  There is certainly space for a sequel, or perhaps whole volumes.  I love myths and fairy tales, and I have no doubt I will continue to explore them in my work.

8) You have exceptional skill at controlling your diction so that every story feels almost like a stand-alone story in that character’s style. How do you accomplish this?

I read a lot.  I write a lot. I watch movies and tv shows and plays.  I keep myself exposed to different styles and voices, but I rarely consciously try to emulate someone else (an exception being “The Speckled Band”).  I find that each character naturally comes with its own voice, and it is just a matter of me discovering its rhythm and  figuring out the right way to put it on paper.

9) Are there any you’d like to touch on at some point—some legends or tale that just hasn’t found its home in a story yet?

Little Red Riding Hood has always been one of my favorites.  I did a lot of research for a capstone project in college, and it’s really stuck with me.  I’ve always loved Selkies, and, more generally, Irish and Scottish mythology, and anything having to do with the ocean.

book cover the speckled band

10) As always, Hannah, I have to ask. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Keep writing!  Keep sending your work out!  Don’t give up, but at the same time, feel free to just give up on that difficult piece, or cut out that paragraph, or that chapter, or that character.  When I get nervous about getting rid of something I make a new file of things that I have cut.  I rarely put them back in, but I like knowing they are there.  Go back and reread everything, a lot, including those stories you just couldn’t figure out from years ago.  And take out your commas and semicolons; if you write first drafts the way I do you probably have far more than you need.

11) Do you have any other recent work you’d like to promote? Where can our readers find you online?

I had a piece of flash fiction “Slippage” published recently on 365tomorrows.com.  My fairy tale-esque piece “Beast” will be published in November in Spirit’s Tincture, and “The Fat Man” (also in “After the World Ended”) will be on Drabblecast around Christmas.  You can always find more on my website: hannahlackoff.wix.com/writing.

If you missed it, you can check out the first part of our interview, which took an in-depth look at The Speckled Band, right here. If you’re impatient to start reading After the World Ended now, you can download the free preview, or buy the full collection. You can find The Speckled Band here.

After the Talk Ended: An Interview with Hannah Lackoff (Part One)

M.H. Norris

It was my pleasure to sit down with one of 18thWall Productions’ favorite authors, the effortlessly amazing Hannah Lackoff. Hannah recently released her first collection After the World Ended and a gothic Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band.

This week, we released a free ebook collecting some of Hannah’s favorite and award-winning stories from After the World Ended as a teasing enticement of what wonders you’ll find in the full book.

1) Hello, Hannah! Could you tell us something about yourself, and your writing journey thus far?

Hello!  I’ve pretty much always been writing.  When I was a kid, before I could actually write, I would have my parents take down the words and then I would draw the pictures, staple the pages together, and have my own little book.  Later on I had an electric typewriter or would work on the family computer.  I wrote long fantasy adventure novels and never finished anything unless it was for school and I had to.  In high school and college I got really into short stories and playwriting and did manage to find some endings.  Since then I’ve kept plugging away, mostly writing short stories.  I started to publish in various literary magazines on line and in print about seven years ago, and when I few years later I realized I had written enough to make a whole book “After the World Ended” was born.

2) What is your writing process like?

I’m not one of those people who can write all day without stopping.  I can’t write if I don’t have an idea.  I’m not very disciplined–I take a lot of breaks.  I mostly write at home, on my couch, with my dog staring at me and wondering how on earth that computer screen could be more interesting than him.

When I get going on a project I tend to write a lot very quickly.  Then I have to wait until a few hours or days has passed to go back and read it and see if it’s any good.  My favorite part of writing is probably the editing; going back into the story and writing deeper and deeper, adding little (or big) bits here and there to tie everything together! rearranging paragraphs and storylines and whole chapters.  I spend a lot of time reading and rereading my own work.

3) I’d like to start talking to you about your recent Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band. In that story you tell the secret story behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” What drew you to that story?

One of the things I liked best about this story was the scope of it–and how much was left out.  The original story covers years and years of Julia and Helen’s life in a few paragraphs–a motive and background that obviously built slowly over time–and what I was left with are these fascinating red herrings that ultimately have very little to do with the way the story ends; a childhood spent in India, a gypsy encampment, pet baboons and cheetahs, a friend who already knows Sherlock Holmes.

I’m always very interested in what goes on in the background of the main story, or along the sidelines, and I think you can see that in all of my writing.  In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” I found Sherlock Holmes, and his involvement, to be the least interesting aspect of the story.  His presence was such a small part in Helen Stoner’s life.  I was more interested in what happened before he came on the scene; and there was clearly a lot.

Hannah Lackoff's The Speckled Band

4) You write a Sherlock Holmes mystery that had James Bojaciuk sing its praises. Congratulations on that, by the way. What steps did you take to keep the Master Detective’s world as accurate as possible? If you did research, were any books or documentaries especially useful?

I looked up a little bit of Indian history, a few maps and photos of India and England during this time period, but he most research I did for this story was on snake species.  Did you know there is actually no snake called a “Swamp Adder?”  If you google it, most of the results that come up directly relate to “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.”  There is a lot of discussion and some mild controversy about what type of snake was present in the original story, and it appears that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle combined the characteristics of several snakes and made up a few of his own.  For instance, snakes are deaf and therefore the swamp adder in the original story could not have heard the whistle Roylott used to summon it, nor is it likely it could have climbed a rope, or drunk from a saucer of milk.

This research informed much of the end of my version.  I toyed with the idea of multiple species of snakes present in the story, but in the end I picked the one that looked the most like my idea of a speckled band.  The idea that Sherlock Holmes appears not to know much about snakes, (Imagine!  Something neither he nor Dr. Watson knows!), and, in fact, really seems quite overconfident about, made it easy for Helen, with the help of her fiancé, who does know a lot about snakes, to take advantage of the situation and use Holmes’ legendary powers of observation to her advantage.  And I have to say, it was pretty fun to let someone pull a fast one on the great Sherlock Holmes.

5) One of the most striking themes in your stories is twins and doubles. This dominates The Speckled Band. If you know, what draws you to this theme?

Twins and doubles are such a great literary device, a great jumping off point.  What can’t you do with them?  I find them very hard to resist.

6) From one mystery writer to another, I have to ask. What was the hardest part of writing The Speckled Band?

I don’t consider mystery writer by any means! but I do love a good one.  I admire the genre greatly and love reading them, and watching them, and I’m pretty good at guessing the endings.   I have tried to write them on occasion, and it just doesn’t work very well for me, and I think it’s because when I write I start with a general idea but really figure out the bulk of the story as I go along.  This is a great strategy for me, but would not work so well in, say, in a murder mystery, if even the author doesn’t know who the killer is.

In the case of The Speckled Band, one of the hardest parts was not figuring out who did it, but why and how.  For example, I knew from my research on snakes that the solution as presented in the original story really isn’t possible due to a snake’s biology, so I had to figure out what really happened: how the snake(s) got there, what kind it was, why so many characters were so mistaken about it, etc etc.

I had to figure out the whys of a lot of other elements as well, and it was really interesting building my version from such a small sketch in the original story.  I made a rule for myself that I had to keep all of the timeline elements of the original story intact, which meant I spent a lot time trying to read between the lines of the story Helen tells to Holmes and Watson in the original.  There are so many pieces she lays out so quickly (why did they leave India, and then London?  How did Mrs. Fairintosh know Sherlock Holmes?  How did Julia and Helen meet their fiances?) that the puzzle became bigger and bigger the more I learned.

Hannah Lackoff's After the World Ended

7) James Bojaciuk is fond of calling your novella a “feminist gothic.” Did you plan on it coming out that way—either as a gothic or a feminist one—or did that happen to happen as you wrote?

I didn’t plan on writing a feminist story–I just wrote one with female characters.  I hadn’t read Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a kid, and so when James asked me to be a part of this project I did not have one in mind.  I had to go back and read through quite a few before I found one that jumped out at me in the way this story did.  And one thing you’ll notice when you binge on Sherlock Holmes is that the female characters, what few there are, are just kind of boring.  They are weak, or underdeveloped, or cliched, or just absent.  The Adventure of the Speckled Band actually has women as characters in their own right.  And even though these women mostly exist to get married and/or murdered, I saw a lot of potential for a story there.

I knew from the start I wanted the story to focus on Helen and Julia’s backstory, and I wanted them to be smart, particularly Helen, who sees herself as an outsider, but is also probably the smartest person in the room in any given situation.  Her journey, of which you see non in the original, is from helpless observer to criminal mastermind, in such a way that you sense she had it in her all along.

The women in my version; Honoria, Julia, Helen, and even their mother are unusual and independent for their time, trapped by class and circumstance more than any beliefs on their part.  All are smart and self serving and use whatever limited means are available to them to get what they want.  It was fun to flesh them out and show their strength and character in a way that would have been invisible to Holmes and Watson.  I didn’t see my version as a feminist piece until James mentioned it–I just saw it as a Sherlock Holmes story with female characters at the forefront.  I think there’s a danger of labeling stories about females as “feminist,” instead of just “stories,” although I suppose if my version had been published during the same time period as the original it would certainly have been considered a feminist narrative.

As for the gothic part–I think it would have been impossible to write this story the way I did and not have it turn out with a gothic feel.  The original story has so many gothic elements to begin with–a creepy old mansion falling apart, foggy nights, dangerous animals, suspicious characters–that I merely took what was already there and amped it up to an even higher degree.

8) We’ll be talking to you some more in the near future. One last question. Given how much readers have loved The Speckled Band, will this be the last time we see you tackle Sherlock Holmes?

In my interview with TVCU someone asked me the same question, and then went on to ask if I had ever considered writing a story about Irene Adler.  Up until that point I had not given it any thought–but who knows!  She’s a fascinating character, and some day I might like to take a closer look.

Be sure to come back on Thursday for part two, as we dive in-depth into Hannah’s collection, After the World Ended. If you’re impatient to start reading now, you can download the free preview, or buy the full collection.

You can find Hannah’s interview with the TVCU right here.

If Walls Could Talk: Twitter For Writers

Twitter.

twitter logo

Who knew so much could be said in 140 characters but in the last ten years or so, it truly has become an artful. In fact, here and there I’ve heard tweeting referred to as modern day haiku.

Before I talk more about using it to market, let’s have a crash course. Some of what I’m about to say may seem obvious but I would be remiss if I didn’t make a few notes.

  1. You Tweet on Twitter.

Never say Twit. You laugh, I’ve heard it. You Tweeted, you are Tweeting, you will Tweet.

Got it?

Good.

  1. #Hashtags don’t always have to trend

Yes, there’s a handy list to the left side of your screen that tells you the trending topics but peole use hashtags for a variety of other reasons.

And actually we’ll start here.

Hashtags are used to show the world what is trending on Twitter and in the last year, Facebook as well has developed trending topics. At time neither will always have something that uses a hashtag (#) at the beginning but often times they might.

#writing

#writingadvice

#writingtips

#marketingforwriting

#Twitter4Writers

Above are some examples of things I could set as hashtags when I put this on my professional twitter. Then, if someone is looking for information and they search writing advice in the search bar at the top, they’ll see my Tweet in the results below.

Another fun one that I use now and then is #writerprobz.

book cover the whole art of

It’s also a chance for you to market your book. For example, The Whole Art of Detection is a mystery that features Sherlock Holmes. So in a tweet about it I could put:

#mystery

#SherlockHolmes

And actually, since The Whole Art of Detection is part of the Holmesian lore, I could use #TheWholeArtofDetection. But that’s a little wordy.

Keep in mind, you’ve only got 140 characters.

One thing I often forget is you can get a smart link that’s only a few characters instead of a long link. I need to remember to do that more because I so often forget that that’s an option.

Including a hashtag with the genre or a popular character (like Sherlock Holmes) in your tweet about your work will help get your work in front of eyes. People have alerts set up for keywords and you would set off that. That and at any given time on any given day you don’t know who is looking for what.

Another disclaimer I want to add here is that you need to be careful to not fall for the trap a lot of people do. 140 characters can get real tight real fast and people often times sacrifice grammar for characters.

Don’t butcher things too badly; after all, you are promoting something you’ve written and if it’s barely legible to someone who isn’t a millennial then that’s not a good representation of your book.

Twitter is a fun place to connect to people. I’ve seen movements happen, causes promoted, news shared and broken, and, yes, even writers find a place where their voices can be heard.

I hope the last few weeks of talking about online promotion have been helpful. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter if you have any questions and as always, I want to open it up. If there something you want me to talk about, advice you’d like me to give? I’m always open to ideas and I’d love to hear from you.

As I round out this series, let me leave you with one more piece of advice. Talking about yourself is hard. Promoting yourself is even harder. But the perk is, it’s called social media. You don’t have to do it alone. Seriously, take down those links in the paragraph above and give me a shout if you need/want some advice. Or you just want to say hi. I’m cool with both.