I have a confession to make. I adore David Marcum. I love his style of writing and the gentle respect he shows for his fellow writers. His stories are among my favourites, not only of Sherlock Holmes tales, but of short fiction of any sort. (As an editor, he’d probably scold me for having three ‘ofs’ in that sentence, but he’d be very kind about it.) I hope when he makes his next pilgrimage to the UK he’ll stop off in Ireland. I’ll have the kettle on.
Hi, David. Tell us about yourself and the types of books you write.
First of all, thank for providing this opportunity!
I live in eastern Tennessee with my wife and son. After my first college degree (at normal college age), I became a Federal Investigator with an obscure U.S. Government agency. When that agency was shut down and eliminated, I went back to school to get a second degree as a civil engineer.
I became a Sherlockian when I was ten years old in the mid-1970’s, having obtained an abridged copy of The Adventures during a trade. I was hooked, and began seeking out the rest of the Canon, as well as any traditional pastiches that I could find. I started reading pastiches before I’d even read all of The Canon, so for me pastiches have always been just as important as The Canon. I’ve been collecting and reading them now for over forty years, and have literally thousands in the form of novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics and unpublished manuscripts, and over 150 binders of printed-out traditional fan fiction.
I’ve written a couple of really long suspense novels that remain unread except by my family, but mostly what I write are additional tales from Dr. John H. Watson about that best and wisest man, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
I’m very grateful to my wife and son, who are both very tolerant of my Holmes vice, and how much room it continues to swallow in the house!
You’re welcome! What makes your stories different from other Holmes’ pastiches?
When reading about Holmes and Watson, I play “The Game”, which treats them as real historical figures, and not created characters. Doyle was the first, but NOT the only, Literary Agent that brings Watson’s writings to the public, and I enjoy many adventures from the later Agents as much or more than the originals. Since the mid-1990’s, I’ve kept a Chronology of the lives of Holmes and Watson, containing both events from The Canon and the thousands of pastiches I’ve collected and read. I break down these events from Our Heroes’ lives into day-by-day segments by book, chapter, page, and even paragraph. Doing this allows me to see the whole gestalt of their lives, and how the various and numerous cases fit together.
By examining Holmes and Watson’s adventures in this way, one soon sees a bigger overarching pattern, and also that all of these cases overlap and twist together – none of them stand alone as unique or individual pods, as presented in The Canon. That has been the underlying theme of most of my writing – all of the events of the cases, like real life, are twisted and knotted. I especially delved into that in my most recent collection of stories, Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins. It’s my belief that when Watson first started publishing the stories in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, he pulled out relevant threads of each story to make each one seem as if that particular case was the only thing occurring at that time, in order to simplify the story and avoid confusion. My stories often show how multiple cases were occurring simultaneously, leading to very exciting but complicated lives for Holmes and Watson.
When you’re not reading Conan Doyle, who’s your go-to author or genre?
I’m always currently reading one traditional Holmes story or another, although the sheer number of stories “edited” by other people besides Doyle means that I don’t get around to the original 60 Canonical tales all that often anymore. In the great scheme of narratives telling the Whole Lives of Holmes and Watson, the original 60 stories are just a minuscule part of the whole Great Holmes Tapestry that’s made up of both Canon and pastiche.
But in addition to reading about Holmes, I’m also always concurrently reading several other series, most often from the Golden Age of Mystery Stories – Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, Solar Pons, and Hercule Poirot.
I also read a lot of private eye series, and some spy/adventure series, such as the adventures of Dirk Pitt and his friends, and all the James Bond books (by both Fleming and others.) I used to read a lot more espionage-type things, such as by Tom Clancy, Craig Thomas, and Robert Ludlum, but as I got older and farther away from my former job as a federal investigator, they don’t hold my interest as much anymore.
Do you have a favourite fellow pastiche writer? Who and why?
I’ve always wanted to read traditional adventures, and one of the earlier writers of this type that I found, and still my favorite, is Denis O. Smith. I first bought his stories when they appeared as individual chapbooks in the 1980’s. I kept buying them over the years. Last year, I was able to track him down to see if he’d participate in ongoing anthology series The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, which I edit, and since then we’ve become good friends. I look forward to meeting him in person if I can ever get back to England for another Holmes Pilgrimage.
Other favorite pastiche authors include Marcia Wilson, who writes incredibly complex and human tales about the Scotland Yarders, while also showing a view of Holmes and Watson that becomes unforgettable. I really liked the works of the late Barrie Roberts, and still enjoy the efforts of the very-much living Hugh Ashton and Lyndsay Faye, who currently and consistently produce some truly fine traditional pastiches.
There are so many others that I feel bad about not being able to name more. Pretty much if you write about the True Holmes, set in the correct era and not an Alternate Universe version, I will like it.
Other than Holmes, who is your favourite detective?
When he was little, my son identified a lot of the series that I read as my “book friends”. First on this list is undoubtedly Nero Wolfe (the son of Sherlock Holmes), followed closely by Ellery Queen. Many people still rightfully love the Wolfe stories, but Ellery Queen is shamefully neglected in this modern age. (For more information about these guys, see my blog entries about reading these two series at “A Seventeen Step Program”: 17 Step Program )
I also really enjoy the adventures of Solar Pons, the successor to Sherlock Holmes. (If you’re not reading the Pons adventures, shame on you! I wrote about the familial connection between Pons and Holmes in the story “The Adventure of the Other Brother” in The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. II – Hint, Pons is not the other brother.) I also regularly revisit the world of Hercule Poirot. Of course, to me all of these Heroes co-exist with one another. As I play The Game with Holmes, I also play it with Wolfe, Queen, Pons, and Poirot.
Who are your heroes (real life or literary)?
One would be my dad, who passed away in 2011. When I was a child, he was a Tennessee State Trooper, and then in the late 1960’s he became a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agent, something like a Tennessee-version of a Scotland Yard Inspector.
He covered several counties, and he kept his office in our house. He would let me read his case files, and I probably saw things in them at an earlier age than I should have. (For instance, reading about the shotgun murder in The Valley of Fear held no shock for me, as I’d already read my dad’s files on just such a killing, and I’d also seen all of the extremely graphic photos.)
Sometimes he would take me with him on investigations – I got to go to a couple of peripheral investigations related to some murders and burglaries, and also be there at the initial interviews of the residents/employees of a fire-hall in which they were jointly accused of a crime. He taught me to lift fingerprints, and later when he became one of the first State Polygraph Operators, I learned all about that as well, sometimes being used as the guinea pig that he would hook up to his machine when he gave a public demonstration.
My other heroes are certainly my wife and son. They were so patient when I went back to school for my second degree in civil engineering. And all along, they’ve been supportive of my whole Sherlockian interest, initially collecting, and now writing and editing. My wife knew what she was getting into when she met and married this guy who wears a deerstalker as his only hat from fall-to-spring, year after year since the mid-1980’s. But my son was born into this Sherlockian house – Brave lad!
Your favourite quote, Sherlockian or otherwise?
This required some thought, but I decided that it is probably, “We can but try”, as used by Holmes in both “The Problem of Thor Bridge” and “The Creeping Man”. He describes it as the motto of the firm. In hindsight, I can see how this quote applies to the decision I made to go back to school to become a civil engineer, since at the time I didn’t even have enough of the prerequisite math classes needed. I literally started from scratch at the bottom, and by chipping away at it, one class at a time, I learned for myself that “We can but try” means that if you don’t even start, it will never happen. The same goes for writing – I’m always amazed to begin with nothing, and then see that something exists that wasn’t there before. If one doesn’t initially try something, then you have nothing to build on for the next step. Holmes was a wise man.
Can you tell us about the MX Anthology Series? It was your brainchild and you’re editing the books. Any regrets about starting a project that has become so huge?
In early 2015, I literally popped awake early with the idea of assembling a new anthology of traditional Holmes pastiches. If I’d gone back to sleep, it’s likely that the idea would have slipped away. But I got up and started making an author wish list. I contacted Steve Emecz, and he was very positive about it, so I started sending emails.
Initially we pictured about two-dozen stories in a paperback volume. But interest grew so much that it became a three-volume hardcover set, 63 new pastiches and other items, from some of the best pasticheurs currently writing. The author royalties go to the Stepping Stones School for special needs students at Undershaw, one of Doyle’s former
homes. The first three-volume Anthology (Parts I, II, and III,) was published in October 2015, and soon after I started to hear from other people who wished that they had joined the party. I realized that we had already done all the heavy lifting of formatting and design, and that the machine was still in place to produce additional books. The school could always use additional funds, and there is certainly a need and demand for more good traditional Holmes stories. So I sent the call out, and soon the next volume, Part IV – 2016 Annual, was being prepared. It will be released on May 22nd, 2015, Doyle’s birthday. Additionally, I’m already editing another volume for later this year, Part V – Christmas Adventures, and next year’s Part VI – 2017 Annual.
I don’t have any regrets about it at all. It’s true that reading and re-reading and editing all the submissions, along with the many emails that goes with that task, takes a vast number of hours, but it balances with the fact that I get to read new Holmes stories from Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box before almost anyone else, fresh from the source, and also along the way I’ve met some really great people. Sherlockians, and particularly Sherlockian authors, are the best, and I’m very grateful for both the stories they’ve contributed, as well as the help and friendship they’ve given me along the way. Hopefully, this Anthology project can keep going for years!
Thanks again for the opportunity to answer these questions – much appreciated!
David Marcum can be reached for questions or comments here
And his books are available here: Amazon