Today, my guest is Ann Margaret Lewis. She's here to discuss her recent release Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.
1. Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? What genre do you write in and why?
I graduated from Michigan State University with a standard BA degree in English Literature, and like most lit majors I wondered what to do with it. I knew I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I lucked out when I stumbled into a job at DC Comics (long story) working as an editorial assistant (a glorified photocopy person). That experience opened doors to write for tie-in projects for Batman, Superman, etc. That then led to a writing project for Star Wars (my Star Wars Essential Guide to Alien Species is still out there on the shelves).
But I like to write mystery. It took me a while to figure that out. Initially, I started writing fantasy/science fiction because I loved Star Wars so much. I also looked into paranormal romance. But mysteries have long been a love of mine and that seems to be where I’ll stay for now. I also like historical fiction and I think I may take a stab at that next. Historical mysteries made sense since it is a combination of my interests, and so I ended up giving Sherlock Holmes a try.
2. Tell me about your current book which you are promoting.
I have a tagline I like to use that also appears in my book trailer: “A sudden death in the Vatican. An international incident over stolen artifacts. A priest’s wrongful imprisonment for murder.” But really, Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of three stories (novellas) that tell “untold tales” from the Sherlock Holmes canon. “Untold tales” are stories that Holmes’s biographer, Watson, mentions, but never details for us. With this book, Watson alluded to three Church-related cases, two of which deal directly with the Pope of his time, Pope Leo XIII.
3. How long have you been writing?
I started writing in high school. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. So that would be…about 27 years. Wow, I’m dating myself.
4. What got you interested in writing, and what inspired you to write your first book?
I grew interested in writing in high school because I discovered I wasn’t bad at it— though more in a non-fiction sense. I’d always liked to read, though. So in college I started, for fun, to write stories about my favorite characters from known universes – what folks call “fan fiction.” Strangely, my first published fiction is a type of fan-fiction. But I have written, and hope to publish, my own creations.
5. Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?
I do make a rough outline. Basically it’s a list of what I’d like to have happen. I then expand on that, and deviate from it if my characters take me in another direction. That happened several times in writing this particular book. Holmes went off and found clues I hadn’t anticipated…what an odd experience that was!
6. What comes first: the plot or the characters?
I’m more character-driven, I believe. I look at a character’s flaws, and find a plot to challenge him or her. Exploiting a character’s weakness is the most rewarding way to build a plot to me. With this book, while I did outline and start with the characters (what would the scientific Holmes do when confronted with a genius theologian and scholar like Pope Leo?) I discovered historical facts of the period that caused me to form my plot around them. So, in a way, the plot grew organically from the characters, but also from my research.
7. Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?
In this book, I loved Pope Leo XIII. Visualizing him in a fictional sense was so amazing. He was this regal, yet loving, humble, gentle old man. He’s genuine, yet politically savvy. I know some Sherlock fans can’t fathom reading a Sherlock story in the voice of a pope, but it really did work for me. He surprised me.
8. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Avoiding anachronism is definitely a biggie, but I think the hardest part for this project was imitating Conan Doyle’s voice. While I am familiar Doyle’s language, so is everyone else who has ever read Sherlock Holmes. I knew I’d have fans scrutinizing the text for mistakes. With Leo, I was imitating his voice as translated into English, so there was bound to be some leeway. In the Doyle’s case, you have his music or you don’t, and the pastiche will sink or swim depending on how well you sell it. It was an intimidating prospect.
9. Did your book require a lot of research? How long does it take to write a book for you?
Whenever you do a historical piece it requires a lot of research. I did try to find primary source material whenever I could. And the internet is such a great tool to lead me to the right sources.
In terms of time, I tend to be a slow writer. This book took me a year to write.
10. What are some of the challenges in your writing process?
Managing my time. Besides writing I teach high school classes, raise my little boy, act as president of the Catholic Writers Guild and sing professionally. It leads to a very busy life – which is another reason I write slowly.
11. Describe your writing space.
Cluttered. I have plans, though, to move my office into a new room. My dining room has been unused for the three years we’ve been in this house, which we built. Initially I thought I’d use it as a real dining room, but I’m thinking I can move my office downstairs and put storage in there and make it my office. I bet I can tackle a lot of clutter if I simply add the storage and more space. At least, that is my hope.
12. What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Finish what you write. There are many millions of people who want to write a book or a story. The key to selling a book or any piece of writing – is having it done!
13. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
They can read about me at my web site: http://www.holmeschurchmysteries.com.