Amy Thomas has a new book hitting shelves March 2014 and I’m excited to say I was able to speak with her, for the second time, about her latest work: The Detective, The Woman, and the Silent Hive.
Hello Amy, good to have you back for Getting To Know the Author. You’re actually the first person to be interviewed twice!
That’s a huge honor! I also can’t believe I’ve been an author long enough to be interviewed twice. I was excited when my first book was picked up for publication; I had no idea I would eventually have three.
The last time we spoke The Detective, The Woman, and the Winking Tree was about to release. How did you find the reception?
I’m extremely grateful that most reader feedback has been that people enjoyed it. I’m always surprised by some of the responses, both positive and negative, that bring out aspects I hadn’t even considered while writing. In particular, Philip K. Jones, who is a Sherlockian scholar and reviewer, drew attention to themes in the book that tied together much more tightly than I’d ever realized while I was working on the story.
I know not every author sees it this way, but I definitely feel like putting my stories into the hands of the audience and hearing what they have to say is a huge part of the process. For me, writing is about communicating, not just to myself, but to create a shared experience with others.
Tell us about The Silent Hive. Paint the picture for us, set the scene. What is it about?
In my first book, The Detective and The Woman, the mystery took both Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler out of their normal environments and brought them to Florida. It was an intentional way to help them come to know and appreciate one another’s capabilities in a new way. The second book, The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree, was set in Sussex, where Irene lives and keeps bees. It was, essentially, about her world.
The Detective, The Woman and The Silent Hive is set in London. It’s completely in Holmes’s world, the traditional setting of the canon, with all the excitement and atmosphere of Victorian London at the turn of the century. The story builds on the canon case “The Five Orange Pips” and gives a more definitive ending to what is a slightly open-ended case in Doyle’s version. The threat this time is much darker than in the previous stories, an unknown darkness that is particularly unsettling because it takes place in a city where Holmes is aware of everything that goes on–until he isn’t.
How did the Winking Tree influence The Silent Hive?
All the stories stand alone, but they also build on each other. Through each tale, Holmes’s and Adler’s friendship grows, and other canon characters like Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson experience progress in their individual stories. Those who have read my other books might notice a cameo appearance by one of my original characters from a previous story.
How long after Winking Tree did you start to plan this book?
I started writing it immediately after, because I had ideas for where I wanted to go that I didn’t want to forget, but I didn’t finish for several months.
How much influence does the current Sherlock Holmes craze have on your stories?
I’m certainly delighted that Sherlock Holmes (and his writer) is getting the attention he deserves as a compelling literary creation and cultural icon. As a writer, I write from what I read in the canon stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so the current craze has more to do with an increase in audience for the books than the books themselves. I’m grateful that a growing number of people want to read more stories about Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.
How much research do you do when you’re writing these novels?
I do a great deal of research as I write, generally on a need-to-know basis as I come up against a historical issue that needs detail or clarification. For Silent Hive, I did a lot of research into Victorian London, beekeeping, and the Savoy Hotel, which is the setting for part of the action and had recently been completed when the story commences.
What challenges did you face during the writing process and how did you stay motivated to finish?
I find that there are always ebbs and flows in the process, but they’re emotion-based rather than indicative of quality. Each time I’ve written, I’ve hated some of my output and loved some, but when it comes time to read the first draft over at the end, it’s all equal in style, tone, and quality. There’s literally no difference whatsoever, other than in the way I felt while I was writing. That’s why my one real tip for finishing a book is just to keep writing, because even if you feel blocked, it’s an emotional illusion that has nothing to do with your actual ability to write as you normally do.
Where do you normally write?
I write all over the place. As an introvert, I find I do my best concentrated writing in a quiet, empty house, but I also go out and jot ideas down at coffee shops and bookstores if I’m starting to go stir crazy. Most of my writing is done on a computer, but I keep a notebook with me in case something occurs to me that I don’t want to forget. Sometimes that means a big idea for a plot twist; other times, it’s a particular turn of phrase I want to use.
Irene Adler was only in one Sherlock Holmes story; A Scandal In Bohemia. Why do you think she’s become so iconic while other women in Conan Doyle’s stories like Violet Hunter have not. Had she not ‘beat Holmes’ would she still be as influential?
To the first part of the question, of why she’s so iconic, I would say that it’s at least partly because she doesn’t play by the rules. We learn in “A Scandal in Bohemia” that she’s certainly not the cold-blooded villain the King of Bohemia makes her out to be, but she’s also not a model of Victorian propriety or traditional gender roles. She has power because she’s willing to give up a certain amount of conventionality for the sake of achieving her aims. In my view, no other woman in the canon does this to the same extent.
Second, I certainly believe the fact that she managed to best Holmes is a huge part of her ongoing popularity. It fascinates me that “A Scandal in Bohemia” occurs so early in the Doyle stories. It’s as if the author realized that by showing us Holmes during one of his most unusual cases, he could show us a lot about the detective and his attitudes toward the world very quickly. In that sense, Irene and everything she is act as amplifiers for Holmes, like a magnifying glass to show his strengths and weaknesses in a new way. Other canon characters who manage to do this, like Moriarty and even Lestrade at times, are also very popular. I continue this idea in my stories, as the characters of Holmes and Adler constantly magnify and reveal things about the character of the other.
Have you ever considered teaming Holmes up with another female or side kick that isn’t Watson or Irene Adler?
I wouldn’t rule anything out. I love writing Holmes stories, and I might some day write a traditional Watsonian pastiche or do something completely different with the characters. There’s something special about Irene in particular, though, because she’s so intelligent that it’s not difficult to imagine her keeping up with Holmes.
In case people aren’t aware – you are a Baker Street Babe. How are the Babes? What adventures have you been up to lately with them?
Life as a Baker Street Babe couldn’t be better. We’re going to be appearing and doing a live podcast at 221b Con during the first weekend in April, and we’ll also be at Dashcon later in the year.
Seasons of BBC Sherlock are few and far between, but the first part of our year was a mad dash to give the proper amount of well-deserved attention to Series 3. I had the great pleasure of livetweeting the episodes for the Babes’ Twitter account during the US broadcasts, and it was a wonderful time of interacting with hundreds of our followers.
What has been some of your biggest influences on your writing during 2013 into 2014?
Great question! I like that you gave it a particular year, because it changes and cycles all the time. Right now, I’ve been going back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Holmes canon a lot. I re-read the stories a couple of years ago, but I found that when I was working on Silent Hive, I needed to go back and refresh my mind with the source that started it all. I’m always amazed at the new things I find because Doyle was such a master craftsman.
Could you tell us a book that you think your readers would be surprised you like? Think of it as a guilty pleasure questions – what is your guilty pleasure book?
I’m a huge fan of the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. I don’t really ever read chic lit (unless you count Jane Austen…), but I picked up the first Shopaholic book several years ago and really enjoyed it, which led to me going on with the series. I always get a kick out of authors taking a genre that is often identified with lower-quality writing and giving the gift of something better. That’s what Sophie does. She takes a type of book that I usually wouldn’t even consider and imbues it with a style and wit I find irresistible.
Last time we chatted you were writing a fantasy novel. Any developments on that? Besides fantasy what other types of genres would you like to write?
I have returned to that partially-finished manuscript recently. It’s not complete yet, but I’ve picked it back up and plan to finish in the near future.
I would like to write a realistic novel about the American South at some point. Many of my favorite authors (Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Zora Neale Hurston) are classic because they express the soul and spirit of the region where I grew up, and I would like to try my own hand at doing that some day.
What’s next for you? Without spoiling your new book will we be seeing another Holmes and Irene Adler story in the near future?
Book 4 is in the works. I’ve already started jotting down plans, and I’m certainly not out of ideas for the world’s greatest detective and the one woman who beat him.
Be sure to check out:
Sherlock Holmes Studies in Legacy is available from all good book stores including in the USA Amazon, in the UK Amazon, Waterstones, and for everywhere else Book Depository who offer free worldwide delivery. In ebook format there is Kindle, iPad and Kobo.
Sherlock Holmes & The Horror of Frankenstein: A Graphic Novel is available from all good book stories including USA Amazon, in the UK Amazon, Waterstones, and for everywhere else Book Depository who offer free worldwide delivery. In ebook formate there is kindle, iPad, and Kobo.
The Untold Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is available in paperback and ebook from all good bookstores including in the USA Barnes and Noble, Amazon & Itunes. In the UK Amazon, Waterstones, Itunes UK. For fans outside US and UK can get free delivery from Book Depository. Alternatively you can order straight from MX Publishing!
Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Crystal Blue Bottle – A Graphic Novel. Available in paperback and ebook from all good book stores in US & UK, Amazon.com , Amazon.co.uk, iTunes & iTunes UK and The Book Depository ! Alternatively you can order straight from MX Publishing!