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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sleuthing for Holmes: Author Interview with Dan Andriacco

I see that you have been a lifelong fan of mysteries. What is it about this genre that intrigues you the most? Was there a specific book that made you think – I could write a mystery?
I think I’ve wanted to write mysteries since I started reading them as a kid. I read books on how to do it, attended conferences, and wrote and submitted short stories. But writing a novel is a big job. When I was a reporter back in the 1980s I took on a free-lance assignment to edit a book. I worked on it every morning before my day job and at lunch time. That’s what made me realize that every book is written a page at a time. That’s very doable, and that’s how I do it.  I’ve written all of my mystery novels at a steady pace of three pages a day.

You are a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the John H. Watson Society. Tell me about these groups. What is their purpose? Why do you think readers are still drawn to Sherlock Holmes mysteries?
Actually, I’m a member of two scion societies of the Baker Street Irregulars. The BSI itself is an invitation-only group with a relatively small membership that has a dinner once a year. Its scion societies are officially recognized affiliate groups. We get together more often to dine, socialize, and usually discuss a Sherlock Holmes story. The John H. Watson Society is a new international group devoted to Sherlock Holmes’s colleague, Dr. Watson. It will promote scholarship and introduce young people to the stories.   

How did you go about finding a publisher for your Holmesian stories? Did you attend writing conferences? Did you get an agent? My path to publication was a very unusual one. It begins with me writing 11 unpublished mystery novels in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I worked at it, I went to mystery-writing conferences, and I had an agent. But publication remained elusive. Finally, I gave up.

But that’s not the end of your writing. How did it finally get published?
Fast-forward twenty years to 2011. It came to me one day that I had written a lot about Sherlock Holmes over the years – essays, short stories, and even radio plays. I decided to put them together in a book, not with dreams of making money but just to have them all in one place. Self-publication was the plan, but fortunately I failed miserably at it. I could never figure it out.

When I mentioned my problem to our friends Joel and Carolyn Senter, owners of a mail-order company selling Sherlock Holmes products, they suggested that instead I try a publisher they knew – London-based MX Publishing.  Ten days after e-mailing the manuscript of Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings, owner Steve Emecz emailed back to say “We love it. We want to publish it.”
What happened next?
Steve wanted me start a blog. I thought, “I can do that. I have forty years of files about Sherlock Holmes.” When I went into my garage looking for blog material, I found several boxes of long-forgotten novel manuscripts. One of them, No Police Like Holmes, had a strong Sherlock Holmes connection that I thought might interest Steve because he specializes in Holmes.

That became the first of my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody series, which now numbers four books. The second book in the series, Holmes Sweet Holmes, was also a much rewritten version of a 20-year-old novel, but the others are completely new. The fifth books in a series will contain three novellas and two short stories. 

Do your stories recreate the style of Sherlock Holmes writings? Or are they more a new re-telling of the era?
The Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody stories are set in modern-day Ohio, in a small college town. The Enoch Hale series, which I have begun with Kieran McMullen, are historical mysteries that take place in 1920s London, with an older Sherlock Holmes as a character. I’ve also written two short story pastiches, Holmes stories that aim to imitate the style of the original. That can never be done to my satisfaction, but it’s fun trying.

What type of research do you do for your books? Tell me about the process.
Research is not my favorite chore because it delays the time when I can start writing, so I deliberately create McCabe – Cody plots that don’t take a lot of research. In the Enoch Hale series, my writing partner handles the historical research because he’s an expert at it. Kieran also answers my questions about weapons and police procedure for the McCabe – Cody books because that’s his background. My favorite research technique is talking to people about their hobbies. Nobody ever minds taking the time to do that.  

How did you find your co-writer?
My writing partner is a Sherlockian whose books are also published by MX Publishing. Other than that, I don't remember how we connected but we're now in frequent e-mail and Facebook contact. We've met in person twice at conferences and my wife and I really enjoy his company. 

How much “artistic license” do you use in creating locations for your stories? Have you ever had a reader complains that your descriptions of areas aren’t correct?
Most of my stories take place in a town I made up, so I don’t have that problem! But the latest McCabe – Cody, The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore, takes the characters to London. I did some online research before I wrote the first draft, but then I checked everything out in person on a vacation trip to London to make sure I had it all right. I’m now thinking that my characters should go to Barbados in a future story.

What has surprised you the most about getting published other than the joy of seeing your book in print?
How few other people care! As a reader, I’m always fascinated to meet published fiction writers. I don’t encounter that reaction very often.

How much time daily do you have for writing?
Fortunately, I’m still gainfully employed at a day job. Before I begin working at that every morning, I spend about an hour writing my latest book. In the evening, after dinner, I write for however long it takes me to bring my output for the day to three pages – usually another hour or so.

How much does social media play in your promotion of your books? What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform? What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
I have a blog and a Facebook Fan Page. New followers are always welcome! I write on the Fan Page every day and re-post more often than that. All of my posts are automatically tweeted as well. I think it’s important to be on more than one platform, but I tend to agree with those experts who say that one should pick two or three and not try to be everywhere. In addition, I have bookmarks and business cards printed up for each new book. I also seek out speaking engagement at which I can sell my books or at least pass out the promotional material. 

What percentage of your books are eBooks as opposed to paper printed copies?
There are a couple of different ways of looking at that. According to my most recent royalty report, covering the December 2012 to May 2013 period, 87.4% of all my sales were e-books. That's tilted by that fact that I had two e-book short stories in that period. If you consider only the books, which were sold as both e-books and paperbacks, the e-books accounted for 53% of the total. These numbers do not include the books I bought from publisher at a discount and resold while giving talks or appearing at conferences. I don't have accurate numbers on that.

Was it harder or easier to write your second book?
Each book in my series is a little easier because I know the characters better. With every book I’m afraid that I might let down fans of the previous books, but so far all the reviews indicate that fans like each one better than the one before. In general, I feel that my fiction writing is coming much easier and much better than it did twenty years ago.

What is the best advice you’ve been given or learned on writing?
Don’t give up.

Want to know more about Dan and his book or how to write a  pastiche? Here's some options for you:
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