David Marcum Investigates

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that I’m a huge David Marcum fan. He’s a first-rate editor (responsible

Interview with David Marcum, Editor of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes  Stories « The Baker Street Babes
David Marcum

for the MX Sherlock Holmes anthology series of books) and an outstanding writer.

As prolific as he is, you’d think he would be surrounded by a host of green-eyed fellow authors all wishing they could be as ‘lucky’ as he. Instead — and I believe I speak for all of us here — we could echo the words of one Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons:

“We’re not jealous of you… No, sir, we are proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”

This is a busy time for David, as his most recent novel is released, along with a five-volume collection of his wonderful short stories. David was kind enough to let me pick his brain about his work and his projects. Here’s what he had to say:

This is an exciting time for you, David, what with a new book and an astonishing five-volume collection of short stories available, enough to please even the thirstiest David Marcum fan! This stunning new collection brings together all your Sherlock Holmes tales and reflect what might be considered a life’s work (to date). Let’s start at the beginning: When did you write your first story?

First of all, thanks for this opportunity! It’s very much appreciated.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and it’s generally pretty easy for me – I can churn out multi-thousand word emails if I’m not careful. The first thing I tried to write creatively was a continuation of The Three Investigators mystery series, which I discovered at age 8 in 1973. These books were what gave me a love for mysteries. There were only a couple of dozen of them in the series at the time, and I wrote several of my own sequels on my dad’s typewriter. Years later, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was a U.S. Federal Investigator for a number of years, and I was frequently sent to strange towns for three months at a time. Once, while in Albuquerque, I bought a typewriter and knocked out a (still unpublished) 600-page Ludlumesque thriller, written in my hotel room, night after night. That taught me the valuable lesson that writing only occurs when you actually sit in the seat and do it.

After years of collecting, reading, and chronologicizing literally thousands of Sherlock Holmes stories, I finally decided to try my hand at writing them in 2008 when I was laid off from a Civil Engineering job. I had a story in mind about Solar Pons’s origins and his connection to the Holmes family, but before I tried writing that one, because it felt rather ambitious, I wrote some “practice” pastiches. I ended up writing nine stories that spring, which were eventually published as my first book, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes.

I have visions of you, Stephen King-like, obsessively turning out tale after tale in the family basement. Is that accurate, or am I letting my imagination run away with me (again)?

That isn’t quite the way it is. Our computer is set up in what used to be our dining room – when we bought our first computer, we put it there for my son to do his schoolwork, and it’s long-since turned into something of an office. The dining room table is my “desk”, and the room is between the kitchen and den on one side and the living room (with my collection of 4,000 or so Holmes books) on the other side. The rooms are close together with no doors, so I’m very connected to the family even as I write or edit – they’re usually not more than a dozen feet away. By being so close, I can just walk into the “office” and sit down and chip away at writing or editing as needed.

Way to shatter my illusions! Still, easy access to the coffee pot is important. On average, how long does it take you to write a short story?

Usually about 6-8 hours for an 8,000-10,000 word story. Of course, after it’s all completed, it gets re-read and adjusted 2-3 times. When it’s time to write a new story, I sit down and open a blank Word document, and just start dictating whatever Watson is telling me. I don’t outline or make a plan, except on just 4-5 occasions when an editor has wanted a “pitch” first. Almost always it’s seat-of-my-pants writing. I have my best luck getting up early on Saturday mornings when it’s very quiet and writing for 3-4 hours, usually getting to somewhere past the halfway point. Along the way, I’ll check things on Google – what was happening that year, map references, etc. –  and I’ll also walk over to my Holmes collection to verify a fact. All of those threads blend in as I’m writing, and by the end of the first day, an idea about the way to the end is starting to show up. Then, I do the same on the following day – getting up early, backing up a few paragraphs into the previous day’s work to pick up the thread, and then going on to the finish. I usually hit the end of the story by mid-morning of the second day, except for the tweaking.

Do you have to table a story for a few weeks until you have time to get to it? How many pending tales do you have on hand at any given time?

As I mentioned, I usually don’t start a story until it’s time to write the next one. I keep a little post-it note on the computer showing what stories I owe to different editors and when they’re due, and I work my way down the list.

That sounds like a dream for most writers. Are you able to work on more than one story at a time? Or do you prefer to finish one before moving on to the next?

I usually wait until I finish one before starting the next – although I will put off final edits for a week or so on one story to let it percolate a little, and I’ll go ahead and start another one in the meantime. The curious thing is that writing them in the stream-of-consciousness method I use means that they flow out without sticking in my head too deeply. I don’t agonize over the plots since the stories tell themselves, so I can go back later and read stories that I’ve written from several years ago and basically be totally surprised – I might know where the ending is headed or who the guilty party is, but I don’t remember at all choosing this or that wording, or why I picked that character’s name, or even some entire scenes. It really is like Watson is dictating and I’m just typing.

Conan Doyle would probably describe your process as ‘automatic writing.’ Given that you have a full-time job, you edit short stories for MX Publishing, and you still manage to produce your own stories, I have to wonder what feats of magic you use to keep on top of everything the way you do.

No magic – just organization. Someone told me something that Lee Child (Jim Grant) told her: As a writer, it’s your job to write. A warehouse worker or truck driver can’t say he’s not feeling it that day. The only way to do it is sit your butt in the chair and do it – every day if possible, because there are always things to be done, and new things every day. As a civil engineer first, I treat it all of the writing and editing as an engineering project, doing what I can on one piece, and then pivoting to something else. One way or another, progress is being made on all the various aspects.

Not to put you on the spot, but do you have a favourite of all the stories in your collection? You don’t have to tell us what it is, if that’s the case, but I think we’d love to know why.

Since I started collecting Holmes in 1975 at the age of 10, I’ve tried to pretty-much collect every traditional pastiche that there is. There are a few that I’ll never find – too expensive, too rare – but I’ve pretty much kept caught up with all of them. I do have some favorites, but generally anyone who writes the kind of Holmes story that I support and encourage – traditional and Canonical – is high on my list. Quite a few of these authors’ stories are even better than some of The Canon – which is beyond the comprehension of those who will only accept The Canon and nothing else. They’re really cheating themselves of some wonderful additional Holmes adventures.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to mention? Works in progress that you’re excited about?

It’s been a busy few years, and there’s always something in progress. I wrote some pastiches between 2008 and 2015, but 2015 was the year when things really took off. That was when I came up with the idea for The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, and since then the projects have just grown and grown.

I originally came up with the idea for the MX anthology as a pushback against all the modernized versions of Holmes that were creeping in everywhere. It was going to be a one-time thing, but it’s now grown to 30 massive volumes (with more in preparation) of nearly 700 stories from around 200 contributors worldwide. The royalties go the Undershaw school (formerly the Stepping Stones School) for special needs children, located at Undershaw, one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes, and so far we’ve raised nearly $95,000 for the school. I’m really proud of that, and also that some contributors sent their first-ever stories to these books, and now they’ve written enough to have books of their own.

Editing the MX books led to editing other anthologies for Belanger Books, and for all of those different collections I wrote and contributed stories, which led me to be invited to contribute to other editors’ books. Just this past weekend, I finished my 89th Holmes pastiche, and getting to 100 doesn’t seem impossible if I don’t get hit by a bus.

This fall, my second Holmes novel was published, Sherlock Holmes and The Eye of Heka, and it was followed by a 5-volume set of 77 of my stories, The Collected Papers of Sherlock Holmes. (The others I’ve written are still in the pipeline for other books and couldn’t be in this set, but they’ll be collected in a future volume.) I’d been editing and writing so much for anthologies over the last few years that I hadn’t actually put out any of my own books since 2015, which is why there was such a big surge of my own stuff this fall.

After each one of these projects – editing books and writing stories – I have a little light at the end of the tunnel, but then I dive back into something else which keeps me busy again. It’s truly addictive, and I can’t believe how lucky I am that people are sending me new Holmes stories nearly every day!

Right now, I’m accepting stories for next spring’s MX anthology, the 2022 Annual (Part XXXI, and maybe XXXII and XXXIII too!) Submissions or questions can be sent to thepapersofsherlockholmes@gmail.com

I’m very lucky to have met (in real life or electronically) so many great Sherlockians and authors. I’m having the time of my life, and I can’t thank everyone enough for making it possible for me to have this incredible experience!

Sherlock Holmes and the Eye of Heka is on sale via MX Publishing and the usual outlets.
The Collected Papers of Sherlock Holmes is available for pre-orders, and will be on sale from November 15th, 2021

David has a lot of fans. Here is what some of the most famous had to say about his writing:

“Among the best I must number David Marcum, who, by this point has written more Holmes stories than Doyle himself.  Characterized by unflagging imagination and ceaseless ingenuity, along with felicitous prose, these tales continue to provide what we all crave: more Sherlock.”

          – Nicholas Meyer – New York Times Bestselling Author

Marcum could be today’s greatest Sherlockian writer . . . .”

          – Lee Child – New York Times Bestselling Author

David Marcum is the reigning monarch of all things Sherlockian . . . .”

          – John Lescroart – New York Times Bestselling Author

Marcum himself again demonstrates his gift for emulating the feel of The Canon . . . .”

          – Publishers Weekly

About Geri Schear

Geri Schear is an award-winning novelist, author of three Sherlock Holmes and Lady Beatrice books published by MX Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals. For further information, see her page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Geri-Schear/e/B00ORWA3EU
This entry was posted in Sherlock Holmes, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to David Marcum Investigates

  1. What a wonderful interview. David Marcum is one of my favorite pastiche writers, too. I’ve read both his novels and want to review them, but I’ve been working on my own book and am not as “speedy” as he is. He’s remarkable. (However, those reviews are coming!) How cool that his process is as he describes. His work is so smooth and so polished, you would never suspect it.

    Liked by 1 person

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