Last month I was invited to read and review the latest book in the Warlock Holmes series: Sign of Nine by the lovely people at Titan books. It was a wonderful book with real laugh out loud moments and a ton of great happenings to investigate. When I was asked if I would like to interview the author G.S Denning, I jumped at the chance to find out more about this take on these well loved characters and about the author himself.
For readers like me who are new to the series can you give a short summary of what to expect from Warlock Holmes?
Well, let’s see… Murder? Mayhem? Demons, certainly. Betrayal. Laughter. Toast and soup. Really, Warlock Holmes is a pretty close parody of the original 60 Sherlock Holmes stories, just with a focus on the supernatural and the ridiculous. So far, it’s been a hell of a fun series to write.
Have you always wanted to put your own spin on a classic tale? What drew you to Sherlock Holmes as inspiration?
I spent 15 years doing improv. We’d do your first date in the style of Shakespeare, or your last job interview as a Mexican soap-opera. As soon as I got the idea to re-do the original Sherlock stories as a comic supernatural adventure, I was off and running.
Watson’s narration is spot on and I loved how quintessentially English he sounded, is his narration something you spent a long time researching or does his voice just flow for you?
Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I didn’t have to work too hard, to be honest. I’ve always been an anglophile. Though American, I was raised on Monty Python, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. By the time I got round to doing this, I was already so steeped in English dialogue and humor, it wasn’t hard. That said, my editor does give me occasional email slaps when I say “yard” instead of “garden” or dare to hint that English muffins are basically just round toast.
Speaking of research, have you ever visited the UK to see any of the iconic Holmes and Watson sights?
Since I spent my young adulthood as a poor theater-rat, I’ve never traveled. I’ve got books of all the iconic Sherlockian sites, but I’ve never personally been. Tell you what: get one million of your friends to buy my books and I’ll totally take that vacation.
I felt the comedy and the tragedy was really well balanced in this story, was it difficult to not let the story stray too far to one side?
That has always been the challenge with this series. How many jokes should there be? How much mystery? How much adventure? How much craziness, vs. how much Sherlockian logic? Where should I be ridiculous and where should I let people feel genuine emotional connection to these characters? It’s not hard for me to do any of those things, but it’s incredibly difficult to do them all without letting one overwhelm the others.
Have mythical creatures always fascinated you? I love the mythology around the Selkie and was so pleased so see it featured in the story.
Hey, a selkie fan! Those are almost as rare as selkies, you know. Yeah, I love mythical creatures, especially rare ones. In book 3 I actually named a character “Barghest” thinking that most people would not know that was a mythical beast. Even more importantly, I figured the readers who did know would probably just smile a bit and congratulate themselves on being smart enough to see what was coming. And guess what? Spoiler alert: Barghest was a barghest. Yep. Violence ensued.
There are some pretty gruesome yet creative demises in Sign of Nine, which was the most fun to come up with?
I think my favorite was the lovers’ pistol duel where one of the guys didn’t know he was in a fight. I chuckle when I picture that poor girl sitting on the swing with bits of her lover’s scalp all stuck in her hair, wondering what just happened. Oh, and given that the narrator of that scene is somewhat untrustworthy, I’m not sure she ever even knew Johnathan Small had a crush on her. I like to think it was entirely out of the blue. I’m a little cruel to my characters, like that.
Dreamscapes play an important part in Sign of Nine, do you feel that dreams hold a lot of symbolism or is that something you reserve for Dr Watson?
It’s not reserved for Dr. Watson, per se, but it is kind of unique to this book. Hmmm… it’s a clever observation on your part, so I’ll reward it with a peek behind the curtain. Moriarty and Adler are super-important in modern Holmes stories—as they are in my universe. Here’s the problem: they each appear in only one of the 60 original stories. I therefore had to find a way to show what they were doing, what they were planning, and why they were who they were with very limited materials. Fortunately, Holmes had this drug problem in the original that I knew I wanted to transfer to Watson. I thought about making him a drug-abusing healthcare provider (which is a common problem, sadly). Yet the way to solve my Adler-absence problem was clear. In book 3, Watson accidentally got ahold of a mystic source of knowledge. I made abuse of that magic double for Holmes’s drug problem. It lets me get that spiral of self-damage I needed for Watson, along with allowing him magical insight into the lives of Adler and Moriarty. It also makes book 4 my dark middle chapter. It’s my series’ Empire Strikes Back.
What would you say is your favourite thing about being an author?
You know something weird, it’s exactly my favorite thing about doing theater. I love coming up with things I think are funny, or interesting, or cool, then bouncing them off an audience and seeing if they agree. I think there’s some basic programing in humans that makes us want to share the things we enjoy. The only hard part is having a book written but not published. You know that crazy friend you’ve got who knows the name of every actor in every Star Wars film and the name of every starship and the inflection of every line ever spoken in any of the movies or cartoons? Well, imagine if you were that guy and that Star Wars had never been released. That’s what it’s like having a finished book that nobody’s read. The day it hits shelves you breathe this huge sigh of relief because you know you’re not just a freak anymore.
We always round of our blog interviews by asking for your fictional five! Which 5 authors or book characters would you love to sit around the dinner table with?
Oooooooh! Ok. Let’s see… I mentioned two of them earlier. I want Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett sitting with me and Starlord and Don Quixote. Pretty sure Don Quixote will never realize he’s got the same complex as Starlord, but I bet by the time desert comes Starlord will realize he’s basically just Outer-space Don Quixote. He’d probably need some drinks to cope with that one. Which is fine. Me and Doug and Teri would drink a ton of cheap red wine and just watch the fireworks. Oh, and the 5th guest? If we wanted a light evening, we’d probably invite Martin Luther to sit there, totally ignored and wondering what the hell was happening. Or if we were in the mood to make it memorable, the Marquis de Sade. Which, I admit, we might come to regret. Still, you can’t say he’s not an interesting author. Even after all that crazy sex-torture, know what they arrested him for? Two of his books. Ah! C’est France, eh?
Huge thanks to G.S. Denning for this brilliant interview, you can find my review of Sign of Nine here and you can discover more about the series by visiting Titan Books.