This is the second half of the Gaslight Arcanum interviews, taking a look at the editors who brought together the wonderful collection of genre-oriented Sherlock Holmes short stories. We got some in-depth answers from Charles Prepolec in the first round, and now it’s J.R. Campbell’s turn to give it a go.
Jeff Campbell’s fiction has appeared in a wide variety of publications including Spinetingler Magazine, Wax Romantic and Challenging Destiny. From time to time his writing can also be heard on radio’s Imagination Theater and The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In addition to writing, he has co-edited the Sherlock Holmes anthologies Curious Incidents 1 & 2 and the Gaslight series with his good friend Charles Prepolec.
And here’s the interview:
Q: What sparked your love for the Sherlock Holmes mythos in the first place?
A: I casually threw a copy of the collected Sherlock Holmes in my luggage for a business trip. At the time I was reading a lot of novels for work and Sherlock was a reward for completing my assigned reading. Like a lot of people, I’d always intended to get to Holmes someday but other, newer novels kept getting in the way. I’d read a scattering of short stories here or there, and I’d read the Hound, but it wasn’t until I finished The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that a critical mass was achieved and a fan was born.
Part of the attraction is just how great the short stories are. The novels are good, and I understand modern readers favor novels over short stories, but to really appreciate Holmes you need to investigate a few cases with him. Each investigation casts Holmes and Watson in a slightly different, slightly more fascinating light. It’s a cumulative process, each story building atop the previous. If, like me, you’ve always promised to get to Sherlock Holmes someday, start with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The short stories are purest form of Sherlock Holmes.
Or you could, you know, buy our book.
Q: What makes a unique Sherlock Holmes story in your mind?
A: It’s all in the author’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. That’s sort of a paradox, to make a unique Sherlock Holmes story the writer needs a firm grasp on the character from the previous fifty-six short stories and four novels. Still, nothing undermines a Sherlock Holmes story quicker than someone who tries to reinvent or reboot the character. He cannot be tidied up! Those flaws exist for a reason.
Part of the wonder of literature is the fact a thousand readers can read the same words on the page and each will read them differently. It’s no different with writers. Every writer who puts an honest effort into learning Sherlock Holmes ends up with a slightly different Holmes than the writer before him. The broad strokes are the same, and they must be observed, but the worth of any story is always in the details.
As a writer, writing a Holmes story is a daunting proposition. You can’t create Holmes greatest adversary, Doyle’s already did it. You don’t win points for killing off Holmes, Doyle’s already tried it. There’s no easy gimmick that hasn’t been attempted in the century or so of Sherlock Holmes writings. No new type of crime, no famous personage he hasn’t met, he’s been everywhere, been both hero and villain, there’s no trick that someone, somewhere hasn’t already tried. The only way to pen a unique Sherlock Holmes story is to figure why you enjoy Holmes and present that Holmes to your readers.
Q: What’s your favorite classic Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes story?
A: Silver Blaze. A murder, the classic line: “The curious incident of the dog in the night”, some ethical gray area with Holmes placing a wager on the horse race. All the elements are there. It’s a great story.
Q: What’s your opinion of modern Holmes remakes, such as the Robert Downey Jr. movies or the BBC Sherlock series?
A: Enjoyed them both. Part of the fun of being a fan of Sherlock Holmes is seeing how each generation perceives Holmes differently. When you consider that Sherlock Holmes hasn’t appeared on the big screen (barring comedies or as a child) since the seventies it’s amazing how the perception of the character has changed. Christopher Plummer said famously of Sherlock Holmes “Hamlet can come on in brown velvet – Holmes has to wear that damn hat and pipe”. Apparently, judging by the recent film and television show, that’s no longer true. And it is great to see Watson getting screen time as more than just Holmes’ shadow.
Q: Do you have a favorite entry in this collection?
A: Yes. In fact, I have a number of them. Next question please.
Q: Do you think it’s difficult to place Holmes, a character of supreme rationality, into a supernatural setting?
A: One of the strange truths of Sherlock Holmes is that there is an odd distance between him and his creator. In his other writings, Doyle often wrote ‘strange fiction’. Some of those influences come into the Sherlock Holmes stories but, because Doyle was establishing Holmes as a detective, he prudently kept Holmes (mostly) separated from the supernatural. Pitting Holmes against the fantastic feels very natural, almost like introducing Holmes to Doyle’s other writings.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this collection together?
A: I suspect it’s common to most anthologies but the biggest challenge is the stories we had to leave out. Turns out it’s no more fun to write a rejection letter than it is to receive one.
Go to Part 1 of the Gaslight Arcanum interviews.
Gaslight Arcanum is published through EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing and available through Amazon.