Monday, June 27, 2016

Frankenstein begins with "F," and so does the name of someone else we know.

Okay, bear with me . . . I'm going to gush about someone.

I know, I'm the guy who crabs about Elementary and takes pokes at the hallowed institutions of Sherlockiana on occasion, but it's not all negativity here in Sherlock Peoria. It's actually optimism about the future that makes me so quick to give up some treasured golden oldies in our culture or upstart penny dreadfuls. The truly good stuff is still out there, and it keeps me an optimist.

So, I'm reading this non-Sherlockian novel this morning, about halfway through, and I'm so immersed in it, so deep into a complex scene of a landlady and tenant working out their relationship issues that I actually stop and go, "How did a single human mind create this? It looks like life."

That's the miracle of Sherlock Holmes that we find missing so often in tales from latter-day tellers: life. Conan Doyle . . . and any great writer, really . . . becomes Dr. Frankenstein with a pen and creates a virtual human being with something that very much appears to us to be actual life. Sure, it's just an illusion they're evoking in our heads, a magic trick of sorts and not actual life . . . as far as we know . . . but still. Life on a printed page.

I get suggestions from writers and publishers all the time that I read their latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche. And sometimes I even try one. But so many come off as Disney animatronic versions of Holmes and Watson on some slow-moving boat ride called "Detectives of the Thames" in Anaheim or Orlando, and I've apparently grown too old for such rides. But when that miracle of actual fictional "life" occurs? I'm completely on board. It's just so hard to find someone who can pull it off with someone else's characters.

As Conan Doyle and many another sage has advised a young writer, "Create your own characters!" Because that's the best way to pull off the magic. Though sometimes we have to give a writer at least one attempt to mimic a master just to learn the trade, the sort of thing that usually is kept within school days, yet in the writing world, such a pastiche can sell. There have even been a few writers whose agents or publishers won't let them leave the safe financial returns of pastiche for their own creations. But like I said earlier, I'm an optimist . . . out of all that, good things still happen.

Because sometimes we get Lyndsay Faye. The book I was reading today which inspired this post was her The Fatal Flame, third in her Timothy Wilde books. (I'm a bit behind, and actually started Flame and Jane Steele at the same time -- though Tim grabbed my collar and pulled me into that book before Jane got her hooks in.) Lyndsay did her Holmes book (and still does the occasional short story, I hear, though I'll wait for those to be collected), but managed to make the big leap and prove herself outside of the comfortable confines of 221B. She pulled off the same trick that Conan Doyle did once upon a time and has created some characters that seem like they surely must be walking and talking somewhere in the past, present, or future of this Earth.

And with everything else going on in the world these days, it's nice to see that such things are still possible, that humanity can produce such talents, just as it did in the past. It's the kind of thing that gives me hope for the rest. Sure, a big fat idiot can get more news coverage than any other human being on Earth on some days. But the Lyndsays are out there, in every field, quietly working away.

And it's good to be reminded of that now and then.

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