Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sherlock Holmes & The Coils of Time (Redux)

Back in 2005, Gryphon Books of Brooklyn, N.Y., published my book Sherlock Holmes in The Coils of Time, in which the Great Detective, just risen from his supposed death at the Reichenbach Fall three years previously, teams with H.G. Wells' Time Traveller to save Victorian London (and us modern folk) from an invasion by the cannibalistic Morlocks of the distant future. Since I've already written something about the joy and trial of collaborating with Wells and Conan Doyle. we need not rehash that here, nor the success the story had in Germany and Croatia. But I do want to tell you about how the Gryphon Books edition had a tragic intersection with Hurricane Sandy (AKA "Superstorm Sandy") in 2012.

Gary Lovisi, owner of Gryphon Books, and I have known each other for 30+ years, ever since he published my first modest Sherlock Holmes opus, Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Ancient Gods, in which an elderly Holmes meets fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft at the height of his creative powers and becomes involved with the highly destructive cosmic creatures of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. We did not know it at the time, but what seemed a quite logical variation on the usual pastiche (logical to us anyway) had never been done before, but that was then, and we want to move toward to when Gary published the Sherlock Holmes/Time Traveller pastiche. As with all the books published by Gryphon Books, copies of The Coils of Time were stored in the basement of Gary's house, a place that had never been flooded in all the history of Brooklyn. All that changed, however, when Hurricane Sandy came to town. His basement became a surging maelstrom of water and mud an event Gary relates quite poignantly in the news section of his website.

While the Federal government is more than willing to dole out money lavishly to labor unions and political cronies, a small press institution does not fall into that category; and I suppose New Englanders trying to get money from their insurance companies and the tight-fisted FEMA would have some stories to tell as well. Of course, no amount of money can make a disaster, even a minor one, "like it never happened," despite the trite and patronizing slogan of a well-known insurance company. And that's especially true when it comes to decades of publishing and collecting. So, with just about everything lost (including my books) Gryphon Books is looking forward, but not back...i.e., I'm out of print.

Had it not been for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I wrote about late last year, I probably would have just sighed about the loss of The Coils of Time and the other books, and figured, "Well, that's that." However, in November 2012, as part of NaNoWriMo, I wrote Paws & Claws: A Three Dog Mystery, a trio of real Scoobies, and by completing that month of "literary abandon" I came into contact with Create Space, a POD business run by Amazon, through which I published my thoroughly uncommercial (and apparently very popular) tale of detective doggies. So, I decided to take a second plunge into the waters and bring The Coils of Time back from the dead.

However, I wanted to more than just re-print that old 2005 story. Needless to say, I planned on correcting any flubs that made it into the old book and of course revising the text to make it flow better and be more logical, but I wanted to do more. I wanted it to be a whole new reading experience, which meant writing new stories to go with the old one, so I did what I often do when I have ideas but no plots...I jotted down titles, and after I oodles of them, I whittled them down to a half-dozen and commenced to write.
  • "The Long-Suffering Landlady" -- Having Sherlock Holmes as a lodger could not have been an easy matter, especially back in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras when a landlady was actually more like a servant who collected rent. In about a thousand words, I referenced more than twenty Holmes stories and also fitted in nods to HPL and Professor Challenger.
  • "An Incident in the Night" -- Originally, this was supposed to be "Doctor Watson's Afghanistan Adventure," but when a title comes to you too quickly and sounds too good (just as in the naming of a character), check it out. A similar title was already in use, and though my story would have been nothing like that which was already published, I decided to take a different tack, setting my story on the HMS Orontes, during Watson's long voyage back to London in 1880.
  • "Lestrade and the Lost River Pirates" -- the odd thing about this little tale of Inspector Lestrade's attempt to solve a series of seemingly impossible crimes is that as soon as I had the title I had the plot, probably because I have long been interested in London's "lost rivers." But there are always surprises, even with tales that spring forth like Athena from the brow of Zeus, and that came in the form of the highly eccentric and possibly dotty character Miss Eliza Cookwell of Lower Westbourne Court, London, and her basement filled with the effluvia of empires.
  • "The Man Who Was Not Sherlock Holmes" -- In this story, I descended into comedy. While some of the other stories are decidedly light-hearted, I wanted this tale of actor Reginald Sterling, who just got the sack after playing the lead in the 1950s BBC series Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street for three years, to bring at least a smile to readers' lips, and perhaps even a chuckle or two.
  • "The Adventure of the Counterfeit Martian" -- This take on Sherlock Holmes during the War of the Worlds invasion (Manly Wade Wellman previously [1975] wrote on the same theme) went very well as far as plotting, but neither Holmes nor the Martians helped at all when it came to keeping the tale true to my original title, "The Adventure of the Martian Eye." So I did what authors always do when faced with mutinying characters...I surrendered. And, so, instead of encountering cosmic vistas of horror, Holmes learns to walk like a Martian.
  • "The Dog Who Loved Sherlock Holmes" -- Levi, the Dachshund-mix detective from Paws & Claws, helped me out with this one. Given his fondness for the Great Detective, it did not take much effort to convince him to channel his inner Sherlock Holmes in this poignant tale of love, courage and detection.
  • "Sherlock, HPL, Gary & Me" -- Not a story, this one, but an essay about the Sherlock Holmes pastiches I wrote for Gryphon Books. Nowadays, people who were in the small press movement of the 1970's - 1990's are being asked for their memories; now that most of all that has gone away, scholars are beginning to set down histories, and the publications that have survived, all those magazines of limited circulation and duration, only tell a fraction of the story, and many of the people from then are no longer with us. I wanted to chronicle what we did in our little corner of the publishing universe.
So, in March 2013, Sherlock Holmes: The Coils of Time & Other Stories was published under the Dog in the Night Books imprint. And since it is inscribed in servers and hard drives, not just recorded on paper, it will not be susceptible to the vagaries of an angry planet, and will remain in print until the lights go out in the world for the last time.

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