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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HOLMES, WATSON, AND SALMON—PART ONE

HOLMES, WATSON, AND SALMON
—PART ONE
 
As the creator and editor of the Fight Card series, I was delighted by the notion of a Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale. I was even more delighted as I knew exactly who I wanted to write such a tale. I was familiar with a number of Andrew Salmon’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches in the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series from Airship 27, and admired the way he was able to capture the tone and linguistic rhythm of Doyle’s original stories. Fortunately, Andrew was also familiar with the style and content of the Fight Card books, having reviewed a number of the series entries.
 
When I put the idea to Andrew his response was instantaneous and positive. He was captured by the concept and wasted no time getting started on the research for what would become the first Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale, Work Capital (a Victorian term for the death sentence), which was published in December 2013.
 
Fight Card Sherlock Holmes: Work Capitol met with universal praise from both Fight Card fans and Sherlockians. What could be more natural than for Andrew to begin work on a new tale of Victorian pugilism. 
 
Fight Card Sherlock Holmes: Blood To The Bone would be more than the second fistic outing for Holmes. It also gave birth to Eby Stokes, a female pugilist to rival The Woman in her effect on Holmes and Watson—and on readers. Blood To The Bone saw publication in December of 2014, establishing a Fight Card Sherlock Holmes for Christmas tradition.
 
The character of Eby Stokes grabbed hold of Andrew and me and wouldn’t let us go. I insisted Andrew had to write a third Fight Card Sherlock Holmes entry, and Eby Stokes had to be part of it. Fight Card Sherlock Holmes: A Congression Of Pallbearers brought a major change into the career of Eby Stokes as she joins Holmes and Watson to once again protect the sovereignty.
 
With the publication of Queensberry Justice: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus, Andrew brings together not only his three Fight Card Sherlock Holmes novels, but a plethora of original related articles, three new Fight Card Sherlock Holmes short stories, a cover gallery, and much more. Beautifully produced and chock full of great Sherlockian stories and other ephemera, Queensberry Justice is a fitting culmination to the current iteration of the Fight Card series. I was honored to have been part of the process of organizing, editing, and producing this fantastic piece of Sherlockiana. Featuring a stunning wraparound cover from artist Mike Fyles, Queensberry Justice is everything we envisioned it would be.
 
With Queensberry Justice: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus now available, Andrew has time to be hit with the bright lights of the interrogation room and tell us about the journey.
********
What would Scotland Yard’s Victorian Ledger Of Miscreants tell us about Andrew Salmon?
 
The record would show he was born in Montreal, Canada. He eventually corrected that mistake and moved with his wife to Vancouver, Canada, with the goal of becoming a writer. It would further show he is an omnivorous reader and consumer of pop culture goings on. A dedicated pulp fan, he has been churning out pulp tales as well as Sherlock Holmes yarns for many a year. He's published, or been part of, 30 books to date with many more to come. His work has been nominated for a handful of awards and even won a pair. He is also a dedicated film extra who has appeared in movies such as Watchmen, Fantastic Four, and in TV shows like Fringe, Arrow, The Flash, Timeless, Supernatural, and many others. 
 
When did you first read a Sherlock Holmes story, and were you hooked right away?
 
Holmes was very patient with me. I first encountered The Sign of Four in a college class on Detective Fiction. Honestly, I didn't think much of it. This would have been around 1984 or '85. Holmes waited until 2008 to weave his spell. Asked to contribute a tale for Airship 27's first Holmes anthology, I initially said no reluctantly because as you can see, I hadn't put the work in with regards to the dynamic duo of Holmes and Watson. Getting on board, I dove into the canon and was immediately struck by the quality of the tales and the characters. Took a while but Holmes hooked me in the end.
 
Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes story? 
 
The Empty House and The Three Garridebs are my two favorite Holmes stories. I don't think one can compare one plot to another so I don't use that basis. These two tales, however, have my two favorite Holmes and Watson moments. Seeing Watson's reaction to Holmes suddenly coming back from the dead is great fun and very poignant in The Empty House. Holmes is not one to easily express his emotions and his readiness to murder the man who shot Watson displays the depth of his feelings for his friend. I keep these two moments in mind whenever I write a Holmes/Watson conversation or interaction.
 
Do you consider yourself a Sherlockian?
 
Not in the truest sense of the term. Am I a huge fan? No question. But exploring all things Sherlockian, for me, is enjoyed as I plot out a new tale. Holmes is not a hobby for me, he's my job. I guess he's getting me back for those years I ignored him. Ha! 
 
Have you read many Sherlock tales outside of the original canon?
 

Unfortunately I can't. While researching a tale for an upcoming anthology with a different take on the characters, I hit the local library for some pastiches with a similar theme. Some of the tales I encountered did not use Watson as narrator and that just doesn't work for me. For this fan, the tale must be told by Watson. Others used Watson, but poorly. Some did a great job. Over the course of reading a few of them, I reached back for my Watson voice—and it was gone! It had become diluted by the other Watsons, both good and bad. This was a scary moment let me tell you. I've had to avoid pastiches ever since, I'm sorry to say. When the day comes I hang up my deerstalker, I'll have mountains of material to read.
 
Do you have a favorite pastiche?
 
I don't have a particular favorite for reason outlined in the last question. That said, I've sampled enough of I. A. Watson's (how appropriate is his name?) work and he channels Watson beautifully. His stories are great fun! Aaron Smith also does some great work.
 
Were you a fan of the Basil Rathbone films?
 
I did enjoy the films but not as much as some. Any bumbling Watson will turn me off the material. Rathbone was great as Holmes however. They nailed his part of it.
 
Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, or Robert Downey Jr.?
 
My Holmes and Watson dream team consists of Jeremy Brett and Jude Law. For me, these are the best Holmes and Watson we've seen to date. I do like Cumberbatch's interpretation, although the show has strayed too far from the source for this fan. Downey Jr., I really enjoy a lot although they have lost the character's fastidiousness and play him as a shabby eccentric rather than a neat one. I haven't seen enough of Johnny Lee to render an opinion. The idea of a female Watson just doesn't work for me. Of the duo, Watson is my favorite—I like him just the way Doyle gave him to us—so such a radical change in presentation is not for me. I should, and will, check out some clips of Johnny Lee in action just to see what he brings to the character.
 
How did you start writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches?
 
When pulp publisher, Airship 27, was putting together their first Sherlock Holmes anthology, I was asked to contribute as I had worked closely with them and they were familiar with my work and myself. I originally said no because I had not read the canon at that point and felt I was not qualified to honor the original material. It was only after much thought I realized I couldn't pass up a chance to write the two most popular characters in fiction. So I dove into the canon and have been having a great time ever since.
 
Had you written Holmes stories prior to those commissioned for the Airship 27 Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series?
 
Not a one. Never even thought about writing one. So imagine my surprise when my first attempt, "The Adventure of the Locked Room", won a Best Short Story Award at the inaugural New Pulp Awards presentation as well as extremely positive reviews from Sherlockians and mystery fans alike! I've been off and running ever since.
 
What is important to you when writing a Holmes story?
 
First, nailing Watson's voice. Second, nailing the characters. It's not easy to capture the feel and tone of the original tales and you've got to be careful. I came to it a little ahead of the game because of my lifelong love for Victorian literature. Dickens, for me, is the greatest writer in the English language. I've read everything of his I can get my hands on, including the mountain of his press work, which I'm still gobbling up. I'm also a big Dostoyevsky fan along with Tolstoy, Hardy, Thackeray, Conrad and others. I've been reading them constantly most of my life. I think this helped me absorb Doyle's approach. After much study, the voice came rather easily to me. Plotting tales, setting clues about, getting to know the characters—these were the real challenges and it's also great fun!
 
I've written other public domain characters over the years. My approach is always that of the ghost writers during the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction. They would step in for Walter Gibson or Lester Dent and write a tale with the idea it could slip into the canon of The Shadow or Doc Savage and no one would notice. I like this way of doing things because, in the end, it's not about the writer, it's about the beloved characters. What Doyle created is incredible and enduring. Who am I, or any Holmes scribe, to come in and mess with it? I've heard from readers and reviewers who have said they didn't feel they were reading pastiche when they read the Fight Card Sherlock Holmes books, they felt as if they were reading Doyle. That takes my breath away! There is no higher honor readers can bestow on a writer of Holmes tales. One reader told me Work Capitol was his favorite Holmes story and he included the canon in his assessment!
 
Now, I don't believe these statements for a minute, but they do my heart good. If people are reading Queensberry Justice a century from now, I might settle a little more comfortably in my grave. But the fact they believe it is truly humbling. It means we've succeeded in what we set out to do. And it inspires me to keep trying to get better.
 
What was your first response to the idea of a Fight Card Sherlock Holmes novel?
 
In the space of a nano-second, it went something like this, I'll do it! Wait, how the hell am I going to do it? Having wanted to be part of the Fight Card lineup since I first stumbled upon it, this was a dream come true. Plus this concept, as far as I've been able to determine, was a first for Sherlock Holmes. No small feat given the long, rich history of the character. Sure, the first Downey Jr. movie gave us Holmes in a fighting pit, but the plot was not about Victorian bare knuckle boxing. This concept was! Exciting stuff!
 
What did you determine about Holmes as a boxer in order to make his character work in the context of a Fight Card novel?
 
It would have to be a melding of mind and body. The first Downey film showed us, really, the only way Holmes would behave in a fighting pit or boxing ring. He's all about study and bringing the information to a conclusion. And this is how he'd operate in the ring—study his opponent, test his strength and abilities, plan a strategy to counteract and overcome them. Execute. So this is the approach I used because, as I said, there is no other way Holmes would do it. He'd never be a mindless bruiser throwing fists chaotically around and he'd certainly never be out-thought in the ring. An opponent would get punches in of course—experience always counts for something—but his opponent wouldn't land the same punch twice.
 
From this and Holmes's lack of experience in the beginning, I saw Holmes as a brilliant counter-puncher. Through study, Holmes could get past his opponent's guard when he was partially exposed in throwing a punch and would know precisely which area to strike at depending on his opponent's body position. Sure, this is Fighting 101, but Holmes could also predict a blow, by studying body language (as seen in the Downey film), before it came and could counter an instant earlier so the counter blow would pack a full wallop. This study of his opponent would also give Holmes uncanny evasion abilities. These I borrowed from Muhammad Ali who could stand toe to toe with his opponent and not a punch would land—he'd even completely drop his guard to fake out the other fighter. The quick, intuitive mind of Holmes, in tune with his natural athletic ability, allows him to evade like Ali. I explained this technique in the first of the three new Sherlock Holmes tales in the omnibus.
 
Also, as bare knuckle boxing at the time allowed for throws and grappling, the time Holmes put in studying Baritsu would come into play when needed. Ultimately, Holmes was the first MMA artist in fiction and this gives him a distinct advantage when the Queensberry Rules go out the window. To sum up—Holmes is a dangerous man.
 
What was the research process like for the Fight Card Sherlock Holmes stories?
 
Very intensive and time consuming. And I loved every minute of it. I'm a research madman! I can't get enough of it. No detail is too small. I had to research the state of boxing in Victorian times from a standpoint of fight techniques, the language of the ring (via newspapers accounts of fights), the rules concerning fighting and the ring dimensions, training practices, diet, etc. From there, I had to interpret all of the above through Watson's eye as narrator as I put together what Holmes knew about pugilistic technique and how he applied it. The same went for women's boxing after I stumbled upon that nugget of forgotten history. Great fun! 
 
Did the plots for the stories grow out of the research or did you have the plots and then research the details?
 
I always love to pull plot details right out of the historical record. Stitching together real history into a fictional tapestry makes for fun reading, I think. Learning while being entertained results in knowledge staying in the memory. The first bout of research uncovered the Victorian women's boxing information, and I filed it away for Blood to the Bone. It also uncovered the Kernoozer's Club, which I tucked away for A Congression of Pallbearers. Finding training manuals and newspapers accounts of fights helped me set the scene for Work Capitol, and learning how retired fighters almost always went on to run taverns helped with getting my characters in place. The real fun is when little nuggets of history begin to stitch themselves together into plots. I love burrowing into the past to see what jumps out at me. 
********
 
NEXT WEEK—MORE FROM ANDREW SALMON AND THE ADVENTURES OF HOLMES AND WATSON IN THE PUGILISTIC WORLD OF VICTORIAN ENGLAND…
 
QUEENSBERRY JUSTICE
THE FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES OMNIBUS
 
Fight Card Books added a bold, new chapter to the rich literary tradition of Sherlock Holmes with the publication of the first Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale, Work Capitol. The book was an instant hit and two more followed. These tales covering the years Holmes spent honing his fighting skills in and out of the boxing ring struck a chord with readers and garnered great reviews. Now, for the first time, ALL three tales: Work Capitol, Blood to the Bone and A Congression of Pallbearers are collected in one action-packed volume. And more!
 
EXCLUSIVE TO THIS COLLECTION
Three Brand new Fight Card Sherlock Holmes short stories
Foreword by Paul Bishop, the co-creator of Fight Card
New Introduction by Andrew Salmon
Cover Galleries for all 3 books
Sample pages from the handwritten manuscripts
An alternate version of one of the
trilogy's most dramatic scenes

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