Anybody who's had the chance to read a lot of published and non-published books knows that there are some really excellent and some really terrible works in both categories. It's no real surprise, then, to find that some of the "indie" or self-published books that one finds in the e-universe are quite good.
A wonderful case in point is The Devil's Grin by Annelie Wendeberg. It's a Victorian crime novel in which Sherlock Holmes is a major character. But Holmes isn't the protagonist. That would be Dr. Anton Kronberg -- who is really Anna Kronberg, who disguised herself as a man to go to medical school.
Beyond being a fine CSI/Sherlock Holmes style mystery, this is a poignant novel at times almost poetic. I asked the author a few questions:
You are German, yes?
Yes, I come from an East German village north of Berlin. Got to help taking the wall down with my little hammer and chisel. That was a lot of fun.
The writing style in this book is wonderful, at times even poetic. Did you write it English first or in German? If the latter, why?
Thank you Dan! It always surprises me when people think my writing is enjoyable, because until recently all I wrote were science papers. I wrote this novel in English only and I’m not sure if I could translate it into German. It’s weird, but it felt wrong to write a Victorian London crime novel in German.
What gave you the idea for a protagonist who is a woman masquerading as a man, which you handled so convincingly?
Hum… not sure. My protagonists often do what they want and not the things I tell them to. But a woman masquerading as a man isn’t new. There are several documented cases, where Victorian women cross-dressed to pass as a man to earn more money for the exact same job, or to be able to do work only men were allowed to do.
How does your own scientific and academic background come into the book?
I’m a microbiologist and there is a lot of microbiology and history of medicine in the novel. I also had forensics lessons, hence the detailed dissection scene. Lots of the historical background in the book is real and it was fun to interweave facts with fiction.
When and why did you become fascinated with Sherlock Holmes?
Now it starts to get embarrassing. I have gaps in my basic education the size of Alaska, because I was so bored at school that I learned close to nil. My poor mom was convinced I’ll be a toilet lady and she was rather surprised that her daughter turned out to be a scientist. Last December I got myself a Kindle for Christmas and downloaded many the English classics for free to fill some of those educational gaps. As I read Conan Doyle I found Holmes to be very fascinating because he so much resembled a driven scientist. It felt like reading about a soul mate.
How essential is Sherlock Holmes to this book? Could you have created your own character instead?
Oh, it would have been so much easier to not use Holmes and find my own detective instead. But Holmes just wouldn’t leave the scene, so I had to use him as Anna’s counterpart.
I believe this is an “indie” production. That’s not exactly a new concept – Mark Twain self-published! But it has become respectable again. Why did you self-publish?
Yes, I’m an indie author and I owe everything to my peer reviewing community www.thenextbigwriter.com. They helped in every stage of the writing process and openly criticized each chapter. This is probably the first thing an indie author must learn - to embrace honest critique as it is the only thing that will help improve the book. The first one to take me aside and slap me on the head was Phyl Manning - a great author! - she taught me to stop TELLING and start SHOWING. For example the sex scene in chapter seven: One could describe the exact same thing as “and he threw himself on me and we went grunt-grunt-grunt”. That doesn’t really evoke pictures in people’s heads, does it? One night I got the idea to let candle light show us the two lovers. That is one of the things I learned from my husband, who is a fine art photographer and basically uses light to tell his stories. So in that scene the reader will see the little that is revealed through a small ball of flickering light produced by a candle in a dark room.
But back to your question! The other thing I learned in my peer reviewing community was how much authors struggle to get published. One can not solicit a manuscript to the big publishing houses without going through an agent. But one can not get a good agent without being an established author. That doesn’t make much sense at all! One can try the small publishing houses, but may end up with one that has only a very small marketing force and poor or no editing services. Two of my friends are excellent authors. If they had a good publisher, you would see their books in every good book store. So, at the end I decided to do it all myself and I’m very happy with that decision.
What’s next for Anton/Anna? And how soon?
I have three novels in my head at the moment. The second one is growing now and the first and the last chapter were written months before the first novel was published. The plot is there and my brain is now chewing on Moriarty and first scenes involving him. I want him to be the scariest son of a bitch you ever read about. He should be highly complex, terrifying smart and very unpredictable. And Anna will have to spend a lot of time with him, giving me loads of room for intellectual combat, which I love the most. But I won’t spoil the fun now. I hope the second one will be out in a year.
Oh you forgot to ask about the science advisor stuff! I’m occasionally working as a science advisor for film makers and authors and its lots of fun! At the moment I work with a SciFi author from New Zealand and we ping-pong ideas on nanobots and genetic engineering. My task is not so much to correct, but to provide ideas based on cutting edge research and help to create scenes or characters that haven’t been thought of before. The beauty lies in the symbiosis between facts and fiction to create the perfect illusion. And before anyone asks: Yes, the BCC Sherlock needs a science advisor! Wouldn’t he be quite impressive in the lab if he could handle his science equipment as shockingly fast and professional as he does all other things? I’m available, by the way. ;-)