You may have heard by now that master pastiche artist David Marcum is editing a book of pastiches from my publisher so huge that it had to be broken into three volumes - The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. I’ll let David tell you the rest in this Q&A.
How did the project come about?
Back in January, I popped awake early, having just had a very vivid dream about a new Holmes anthology. I had edited it, and it was filled with new stories by some of my favorite pasticheurs. If I’d rolled back over and slept late, as I’d intended, the idea would have been gone. But I started thinking more about it, and before long I got up, being very quiet so as not to wake my wife, and went into my Holmes books. I started making a list of names.
Did your dream involve such a huge record-breaking collection, the biggest of its kind ever assembled?
No, much smaller. I had a list of about a dozen author names, and I saw it as a standard-sized paperback. I sent an email to publisher Steve Emecz, explaining the idea and listing those first authors, and he was very enthusiastic. Then I started reaching out, explaining the idea, and asking for stories.
How did you go about adding authors?
At first, I only asked people that I already knew, either from meeting them or by email. As they said yes, I started to get more ambitious, and began to track down other people. At some point, I decided that I would spread my net wider and ask other authors in the Sherlockian community that I didn’t know. I started contacting strangers whose books and stories I’ve enjoyed for years. Often, they would say yes, and then they would suggest someone else.
One author that I really wanted to find was John Hall, who lives in England and is not on the internet. Several people helped me track down John’s physical address, and I sent him an old-fashioned letter. Imagine my amazement when, about a month later, I received a reply in the mail, complete with the typed manuscript of a new finished story. Then, a few weeks after that, I received another letter from John, this time with another story from a Sherlockian friend of his, Kevin Barratt. He didn’t know if I’d want it, but he’d taken it upon himself to send it. It was good, and now Kevin is in the anthology too.
At what point did the single book become multiple volumes?
It was just a natural progression. My inspiration for the whole thing was The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, edited by Mike Ashley. It has around two dozen adventures, arranged in chronological order. As someone who has a major interest in the entire Holmes chronology, both Canon and pastiche, I knew that I wanted to set this new anthology up the same way.
But it just became too big to stay as one volume?
Exactly. Early on, I set up a book template. As stories would arrive, I would edit and format them, and then drop them into the book. It was growing faster than I had thought it would, and there were still a lot of stories left to come. I experimented with reducing the font size, but even then it was going to be a giant book, so big that the spine would likely crack, and the print would be too small to read.
So you had to make the decision to expand.
Yes. With some pain on my part, Steve Emecz and I agreed that it should be two volumes. That’s also when we discussed the idea that the books should be released as simultaneous hardcovers instead of paperbacks. I had already drawn up a rough draft of how I saw the book’s cover, a painting by Atkinson Grimshaw with a silhouette of Holmes in the foreground. I found another Grimshaw painting and fixed up a draft version of it for the cover of the second volume. I sent them both off to the incredible graphic artist who works with MX, Bob Gibson at staunch.com. Within days, he had sent back beautiful finished versions.
They really are beautiful covers that let people know exactly what to expect inside.
I agree. But even then, the cover text for the two volumes wasn’t set in stone, which was good, because it was soon apparent that the two volumes needed to go to three. I found another Grimshaw painting, and Bob fixed it up too. After that, all that was left was to finish receiving all of the promised stories, and then to figure out how the books would be divided by the chronologically arranged stories.
How do the dates break down?
I think of the different volumes as all part of the same book, just spread out in different covers. Part I covers the period from when Holmes and Watson meet, in 1881, to 1889. Part II is from 1890 to 1895, and Part III is from 1896 to 1929, when Watson passed away. The collection is a very good representation of Holmes and Watson’s friendship and professional partnership from start to finish.
What were your requirements for the stories?
Basically, they had to be about the traditional Canonical Holmes and Watson. No modern settings, no vampire hunting or time travel, and no parody. There could be nothing that altered what was set up in the Canon, such as unexpected marriages or deaths of the main characters. And Holmes had to call Watson “Watson,” and Watson had to call Holmes “Holmes.”
Tell us about how the authors are donating their royalties?
When I first had the idea for the anthology, it was to find a way to get some new stories about Holmes and Watson. But I soon realized that keeping track of individual royalties would be a nightmare. There needed to be a common cause to support, and I immediately thought of Undershaw, Doyle’s former home in England that had needed to be saved from destruction or horrible disfigurement. MX Publishing had previously done quite a bit of work to help save Undershaw, and has actually published several books specifically to raise money for the house. Additionally, some MX authors already donate their royalties toward this cause. When I presented the initial idea to Steve, I already knew that’s where the money should go. Many authors joined the project specifically because they wanted to help, and this was a great way to do it.
I understand that there is a Kickstarter in place for the anthology.
Right. It can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1229605719/the-worlds-largest-new-sherlock-holmes-story-colle?ref=watched_project_launched
It has gone way past both its initial goal and its “stretch” goal, but every bit raised is of benefit. It will run until August 16, so don’t forget to visit the website and purchase copies of the anthology, available for early delivery at reduced prices.
I also read that the Conan Doyle Estate has approved of the project.
That’s right. They entirely support the efforts to save Undershaw, and they donated the use of their seal to appear on the covers of each book.
Didn’t I hear something about a huge launch party for the books?
It’s going to be on October 1, on the 35th floor balcony of the Heron Tower in London. The site has been donated by publisher Steve Emecz’s daytime employer, Powa Technologies. Attending will be members of the Doyle family, representatives of Sherlock Holmes societies from all around the world, celebrities, and some of the anthology authors as well. It sounds like it will be amazing!
Where can I find out other information?
There have been several news articles and blogs about the anthology, including a RadioTimes article, and a series of author interviews at I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (IHOSE). A few of these can be found here:
Thank you for sharing with us what went into the creation and editing of the collection.
Thank you! I really hope that everyone enjoys it. The stories are incredible, and it’s for a great cause too!