|Dana and Dan at Bouchercon in 2012
My friend Dana Cameron, multiple award-winning mystery and fantasy writer, recently published in electronic formats a short story called "The Curious Case of Miss Amerlia Vernet." She talked to me about the story and about matters Sherlockian.
This seems to me the Brass Age of Sherlockian pastiche – some of the stories being published today display knowledge of the Canon about a mile wide and an inch deep. But you obviously know your Holmes. Tell us about your involvement with the gentleman.
I first encountered Sherlock Holmes through reading “The Speckled Band” in school; I loved the creepiness! This was right when I was consuming mysteries by the fist-full, and Sherlock fit in perfectly with Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and “One-Minute Mysteries.”
I returned to the canon throughout my life, but especially when I spent a year studying in London; there was something about wandering the streets of London that made it perfect. Each new encounter with a movie or film or book that featured Sherlock Holmes sent me back to the canon, where I would inevitably gravitate toward some new aspect.
Among my favorite pastiches were the movie “Young Sherlock Holmes,” Neil Gaiman’s “A Case of Death and Honey,” and especially The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King. That series blew me away, as a crime writer and someone who’s spent a lot of time doing historical research. Most recently, I’ve become a fan of BBC's “Sherlock;” the chemistry of the actors and the modernization is grand, even if I don’t love every detail. The things that keep resonating for me are the sense of history I got from reading the stories and the logic that Holmes employed.
As a writer, I appreciate the amount of logical construction that went into the short stories, especially those with supernatural elements; it’s as much math as it is imagination. And one early, valuable lesson I learned was about the value of John Watson, not simply as a narrator, but as a character with whom the reader can relate and someone who can help interpret for a more extreme, sometimes more alien character. That’s key not only in crime fiction but in any story-telling.
I know that you are a member of the Diogenes Club of Washington, D.C. What other involvement have you had in the Sherlockian community?
I happened across the Baker Street Irregulars and Friends Weekend several years ago, when I was in New York on other business. I realized that friends from the mystery community were there—Jan Burke, Laurie King, Les Klinger, and SJ Rozan—and figured I would swing by to get my copy of A Study in Sherlock signed. I kept running into more folks I knew that day, and having amazing conversations, and I asked myself “where has this been all my life?” I've been back ever since. I was honored to be invited to the BSI Dinner last year.
I was so pleased to be asked by Jacquelynn Morris to present a talk at the Scintillation of Scions; that’s a fantastic weekend! I spoke about the Special Operations Executive, the WWII precursor to MI6 who called themselves “the Baker Street Irregulars.” Spies and intelligence studies are a hobby of mine. That led to me meeting Michael Quigley, who said he was founding a new scion, the Diogenes Club of Washington D.C. I was proud to be at the founding meeting (where you presented!); I hope to revise that paper to submit to the Diogenes Club’s publication.
Finally, I’m working on an article for the Baker Street Journal. I’d also love to attend 221BCon.
In “The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet,” you bring Sherlock Holmes into your own Fangborn universe. How fun was that?
Wicked fun! I loved putting my own spin on the denizens of Baker Street and it was a blast working out how they might work in the Fangborn ’verse. Since my vampires, werewolves, and oracles are dedicated to the protection of humanity and the eradication of evil, there was a lot of overlap to play with. I loved trying to fit the details of the two worlds together.
The story is written from the point of view of Miss Vernet, a young cousin of Sherlock Holmes. That works very well. Why did you do that instead of the traditional Watson viewpoint?
Thank you, Dan! There were a number of reasons to use her as the narrator. First, it was the easiest and fastest way to introduce the Fangborn ’verse to the reader through Amelia Vernet’s point of view because she is relatively new to her work as a Fangborn and as a detective. Second, it was a way to avoid spoilers. Third, by having Amelia narrate, it was another signal to the reader that I was going to play with the canon; I’d keep the traditional structure of the stories, but neither Watson nor Holmes would be the narrator.
One Sherlockian I know says he accepts all pastiches as being true, even when they contradict each other. How do you want us to read this story – is it the true hidden story of the Baker Street ménage, a fantasy of what might have been, an alternate universe, or what?
I love that notion! For me, I think of pastiche as a parallel world, and my story is how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fit into the Fangborn world. My goal is to honor the characters and the stories, while putting my spin on them and elaborating on them. To me, pastiche is like a folk interpretation of the original text, a reinterpretation to suit a particular audience. Of course they are all true, according to their audiences!
Are we going to see more of Miss Vernet?
I certainly hope so! I enjoyed following her and working out the puzzles in writing in the key of Sherlock Holmes. I have several ideas brewing...
What’s next in the world of Fangborn?
Next March, the third Fangborn novel, Hellbender, will be out; it picks up where I left my archaeologist (and werewolf) Zoe Miller in a very bad place at the end of Pack of Strays. It also prominently features an artifact I mention in “Miss Amelia Vernet.” Next October will be another Fangborn short story, probably set in New York City of the mid-eighties, which will also feature the history of that artifact.
What other questions do you want to answer?
Is it true you met Benedict Cumberbatch?
It is! My husband won tickets to the NYC premiere of BBC's “Sherlock.” I met the man himself and thanked him for doing a brilliant interpretation of the character; I also met Stephen Moffat and Sue Vertue! It was a thrilling evening.