Putting well-known characters in new situations can give a classic new life,” Liese Sherwood-Fabre says. She should know: “entertaining” and “enticing” are just some of the ways Publishers Weekly has described her Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series. BookLife spoke with Sherwood-Fabre about expanding on the adventures of one of the world’s most well-known literary figures.
What sparked your interest in Sherlock Holmes?
While I cannot pinpoint when I first met Sherlock Holmes, I do recall watching the old black-and-white Basil Rathbone movies after school. A lot of cartoon characters over the years have also sported a deerstalker hat and carried a magnifying glass investigating something. My first clear memory of reading a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was “The Captain of the Polestar” in one of my public school classes.
As a mystery fan from an early age, I read all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books I could get my hands on. I was always drawn to the Sherlock Holmes character because of his application of scientific methods to solve problems. He was kind of a nerd, and I could relate to that more than to popular Nancy and Trixie.
My interest in writing about a young Sherlock Holmes came one day while on the treadmill. I wondered about how the man learned to be the world’s greatest consulting detective. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle provided little in the way of this character’s history or family. Both Sherlock and Mycroft had exceptional intellectual abilities, but someone had to nurture these traits. With Conan Doyle sharing so little on the man, I decided to provide it myself. To give it a twist, I chose his mother to be the major influence in his life. During the Victorian period, a woman with a mind as keen as her sons’ wouldn’t have had the opportunities afforded the boys. A major outlet for her talents would have been through them, and, given Sherlock’s personality, I created a sort of apprenticeship to her as he developed his methods.
How does the writing process change when you’re using another author’s creations?
Basing a work on another author’s characters is, by definition, fan fiction. While the term is rather recent, dating back to the 1940s or 1950s, creating such tales is much older. Miguel de Cervantes wrote a sequel to Don Quixote because so many stories about the knight by other authors were circulating through Spain.
In my mind, the term fan fiction implies that both the reader and writer have more than a casual interest in the character. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, he has a very old and well-organized fan base. Given Holmes’s popularity, an author does not approach the subject lightly. Moving forward with such a project involves keeping true to the spirit of the original Holmes. The base and heart of Sherlock’s popularity was—and is—his ability to apply logic and science to solving mysteries, and this must be preserved, along with some of his well-known eccentricities. Because my work explores his early development, I do have a little more freedom. I began the series in his early adolescence, when his deductive skills are not as refined and he is still discovering himself. The goal, of course, is to bring him into his full form by the end.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to continue another author’s work?
A writer who considers continuing another author’s work must respect the original work and character. This approach includes reading the original works to understand the characters’ personalities and traits as well as the original writer’s voice. Research into the time and setting lends further authenticity to the work.
Additionally, the writer needs to be aware of possible copyright issues. Contemporary works would still be under copyright, although some authors, such as J.K. Rowling, allow fan fiction if not for profit. Others, like Anne Rice, do not allow it under any circumstances. Most of the Sherlock Holmes tales are now in the public domain, but a few of the final stories cannot be referenced without permission from the Conan Doyle estate.
Sequel writers must also decide how and where to share their work. For those without copyright issues, some publishers might be interested. Checking out other published sequels will indicate where to submit the manuscript. For those not in the public domain, some authors post their pieces on sites such as Archive of Our Own, Commaful, Fanfiction.net, Tumblr, and Wattpad. Because these sites restrict the type and subject of the work, any requirements should be thoroughly reviewed before posting.
Once this foundation has been set, putting well-known characters in new situations can give a classic new life.