Silent Meridian is a page-turning novel about telepathy, telekinesis, and time travel. The sprawling tale stretches from 1898 to 1914 with bounces back to ancient China and feudal Japan, and forward to the 23rd century. Major characters include H.G. Wells, Harry Houdini, Carl Jung, Sax Rohmer, Sigmund Freud, William Butler Yeats and – especially! – Arthur Conan Doyle. Baker Street Beat recently had lunch with author Elizabeth Crowens and subsequently asked her a few questions.
I think of Silent Meridian as “genre-bending” in its mixture of fantasy, historical fiction, and adventure. How would you characterize it?
Definitely cross-genre. My log line is: A 19th century X-Files meets H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine featuring Arthur Conan Doyle and his paranormal enthusiast partner, John Patrick Scott, the Time Traveler Professor. Everyone knows Arthur Conan Doyle for Sherlock Holmes, but a high percentage of readers have no idea that he had a passionate interest in Spiritualism and to scientifically prove various psychic and preternatural phenomena, and this is documented in all of his biographies. However Silent Meridian is clearly speculative fiction (science fiction/fantasy/horror), even in the Steampunk subgenre with its time travel elements. It can also fall into the categories of time slip, secret history and alternate history.
The book covers a lot of territory in time and space. How much and what kind of research did you do? How long did it take you to write the book, from idea to completion?
It took four lengthy trips overseas and an enormous amount of reading and research to put this book together. Some of the reading had been done over the course of more than thirty years, but when I finally buckled down and set my mind to this project the book took approximately five years to complete. One of the highlights was spending nearly a week in the British Library reading personal letters of Conan Doyle’s.
One of the many historical characters in the book is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle. Why ACD?
Although highly fictionalized, I came up with the idea for the series based on diaries I found from someone who claimed he had an unusual and secret relationship with Conan Doyle and a few of the other famous people mentioned in the novel. Most of that information could not be proven, and some of it was quite farfetched. However, there was always the possibility of changing that person’s name and taking it up a few notches into the speculative fiction realm. Therefore I took that ball and ran with it.
Arthur isn’t always admirable in your book. Why did you make him like that? What has been the reaction?
I knew that treading this path would be controversial, but let’s face it, a lot of that was based on documented incidents. Later on in his career he did rub a few people the wrong way with some of his fanatic beliefs. The Cottingley Fairies was an embarrassing example. It should also be noted that in real life his personality sometimes reflected the complete opposite of Sherlock Holmes. In The Sussex Vampire, Sherlock might have said, “The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply,” but in actuality Conan Doyle’s personality was often more like Fox Mulder from the X Files, the believer vs. Agent Scully, who was the skeptic and scientist and more like Sherlock in reasoning.
In my novel, Arthur’s colleagues at the Society for Psychical Research seemed to be on the same page, but I portrayed H.G. Wells as being much more pragmatic and, at times, somewhat of an antagonist. So far no one has confronted me with any disappointing reactions. Besides, all interesting characters must have flaws to portray a human element. Even Sherlock had his seven percent solution. The rest I have to keep secret, as that will spoil some of the upcoming novels in the series.
When and how did you become acquainted with Mr. Sherlock Holmes?
Growing up I was familiar with the Basil Rathbone films. He was incredibly handsome and, to me, still has the best physical likeness to how I imagined Sherlock. I had no idea until I started working on this project that Sherlock Holmes won the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most actors portray him either in film, television or theater. The only character to surpass that was Dracula, but that character is non-human. So, as I dived headfirst into this project, I began to appreciate the interpretations by Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Robert Downey, Jr., amongst others.
What have been your interactions with the Sherlockian community over the years?
I’m an active participant in several of the Greater New York area scions, ASH Wednesday (by the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes), the Priory Scholars, and when I can make it with The Montague Street Lodgers and Epilogues in New Jersey. On my most recent trip overseas, thanks to Sherlockians Bonnie MacBird and Robert Stek, I had the pleasure of meeting Barry Young from the Sherlock Holmes Society of Scotland, Roger Johnson and his wife Jean from the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, Laurence Deloison from the Paris scion, and Luke Benjamin Kuhns, who arranged for me to have a tour of the newly restored Undershaw.
Other than ACD, what writers have influenced you the most?
Other than Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and J.K. Rowling have been huge influences and, most recently, Tim Powers, one of the godfathers of Steampunk. I’m also a film fanatic and have been influenced quite a bit by Hollywood.
What’s next in the Time Traveling Professor series?
A Pocketful of Lodestones, the sequel to Silent Meridian, which will start out in 1914 on the Western Front. We will follow some of our familiar characters – John Patrick Scott, H.G. Wells, Harry Houdini, and of course, Arthur Conan Doyle – with their involvement in the Great War.
Will ACD continue to be a major character in future books?
Without revealing any spoilers, the answer is yes. When you read Silent Meridian you will discover that there are lessons to be learned from the past. They affect the present and will continue to haunt characters into the future if not properly resolved. I’m also developing a spinoff series with him and H.G. Wells, as well as Houdini, that does not involve John Patrick Scott. Don’t want to reveal too much about that now.
Do you have any other non-related literary projects in the works?
Yes. I’m developing several projects, with the most pertinent one being a domestic suspense thriller with a female protagonist that takes place in 1985. The title of that novel is Memoirs of an American Butterfly. Although the sequel to Silent Meridian is about sixty percent of more completed, I’d like to finish this one first.
Silent Meridian has been nominated for a few awards. Do you care to elaborate on that?
I’m really excited to announce that my novel has made the short list of finalists for Chanticleer Review’s 2016 Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction, as well as the 2016 Goethe Award for post-1750’s Historical Fiction. I’ve also submitted it for consideration for various other awards such as the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel, the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction, the John W. Campbell Award for Best First Novel, and hopefully I’ll make the ballot for next year’s World Fantasy Award.
Silent Meridian – Time Traveler Professor – Book 1 is The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK and free Book Depository. In is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (/iPhone).