Monday, November 24, 2014

Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger at The Poisoned Pen!

Denis's work shifts are changing very soon, and he may not be able to come to these author events at The Poisoned Pen for a while. It can't be helped, but I certainly hope that this bid doesn't last very long; it's so much better to have him in the car with me so we can talk over the evening on the way home! 

At least that new shift hasn't begun yet, so the two of us were able to head over to Scottsdale and our favorite bookstore to see Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger talk about their latest collaboration In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon. This book features contributions from writers like Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Ellison, and Sara Paretsky, and since I hadn't read their first compilation, A Study in Sherlock, I made certain to buy a copy of that before I reserved our seats.

"You're here!"

L to R: Leslie S. Klinger, Barbara Peters, Laurie R. King

Host Barbara Peters had originally intended to talk for a few minutes solo with Laurie R. King. (She and King have been good friends for many years, and are even working on a book together. Whenever King is in town, she stays with Peters.) Barbara did startle me when she first walked up to the chairs-- seeing me, giving me a big smile, and saying, "Our regular blogger is here!" There were also two people from Shelf Awareness in the bookstore, and there was an electric feeling to the air.

Leslie Klinger was on a very tight schedule: flying into Phoenix, rushing to The Poisoned Pen to sign who-knows-how-many copies of the latest book before speaking to us all, signing our books, and then rushing back to Sky Harbor to catch another flight out. Whew!  Peters and King had barely started talking about the 20th anniversary edition of The Beekeeper's Apprentice before Klinger arrived. Peters did mention that King's new Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book (Dreaming Spies) will be out in February. On Saturday, February 28 at 2 PM, The Poisoned Pen will be having a Mary Russell Afternoon "which is in design, so if any of you have any really good ideas as to how we might do this, please feel free to email me with your suggestions, and Laurie and I will work on it."  

"Especially if it's cheap!" Laurie interjected. 

"That's your publisher, not your bookseller!" Barbara clarified. "They gave us what I would call a modest budget, but budgets have never entered into anything we've ever done here at The Poisoned Pen, so we'll just carry on.

Available February 2015!
"I also wanted to tease you with the fact that Laurie, Rob (Barbara's husband) and I made the trip to Japan together-- which is the background for Laurie's new book Dreaming Spires--"  "Spies!" (Laurie again.) "Spies?" Barbara said, looking at her friend. "I like spires. It's an actual play on words, isn't it?" (A nod from Laurie.) "But you're the person who would never publish Stately Holmes when I asked you to..." "It's in the works!" Laurie objected. Barbara gave her a look filled with doubt. "You know, Sue Grafton rejected my concept of T Is For Lipton, which I've never gotten over...." "Brand names," Laurie said. "I know," Barbara admitted. (And if you are of the opinion that we were all sitting there enjoying their banter, you would be right!)

"Anyway," Barbara said to get back on track, "we made this wonderful trip around Japan, and Laurie and I became enthralled by not only Japanese hygiene, but Japanese plumbing as exemplified by the Toto Toilet manufacturers. Laurie and I are writing the text-- have we come up with the title?"

"I think Flushed With Pride has already been used," Laurie replied to yet another round of our laughter.

"In any case you will be amazed by this book" Barbara said, " and we have some wonderful stories as well as photographs. Our book should be ready in time for The Poisoned Pen's Mary Russell Day!

Personally I think sales are going to be pretty high just from The Poisoned Pen's customers, and while I was thinking that, Barbara switched seats with Leslie Klinger so he and Laurie could talk about their latest book.

Free Sherlock!

Writers, friends and co-editors: Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger.

Laurie wanted Leslie to sit on her left to avoid shining a spotlight on the large bandage he was sporting on one cheek. Making one reference to it as a "Bouchercon bar fight scar," Klinger and King got right down to business. 

After making sure that his microphone worked, Klinger said, "Someone came up to me at Bouchercon and said, 'Thank you for the lawsuit!' I've been practicing law for forty years, and that's the first time anyone's ever said that to me!

"Here's the short version. It's all Laurie's fault. When we were doing the book called A Study in Scarlet, before it came out, Random House got a letter from the Conan-Doyle estate telling them that they couldn't publish new Sherlock Holmes stories because the Conan-Doyle estate owned the copyrights to ten stories, and that gave them the right to protect the characters of Holmes and Watson. Laurie and I said that that was wrong, but Random House said that they didn't care if it was right or wrong, they were just going to pay for a license. It was easier.

Leslie S. Klinger
"When we were getting ready to do this book, we went to Pegasus Books. They said, 'Fine, we believe that you're right in doing this,' and they agreed to do the book. Then Pegasus received a letter from the Conan-Doyle estate telling them that if they didn't pay for a license, the estate would block distribution of the book-- Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Ingram-- the book would never see the light of day.

"Well, this made us angry. So we filed a lawsuit asking for declaratory relief. We weren't seeking damages; we asked the court to determine that we were right. That we were free to create new stories about Sherlock Holmes because fifty of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain.

"We filed in the northern district of Illinois because that's where the estate has an office. The Federal Court ruled in our favor. The estate appealed and went to the 7th Circuit. That was a big mistake. The 7th Circuit wrote a scathing opinion in our favor...."

"It's really very entertaining reading," Laurie said. "You normally don't think of something like that being entertaining prose, but it was. You can read everything on the Free Sherlock website."

Leslie continued, "After the court handed down its decision, we asked-- as we were permitted to do under the copyright laws-- for our legal fees to be reimbursed, and not only did the court reimburse us 100% of our legal fees, but wrote a scathing opinion about that, saying that representatives for the estate were acting like extortionists. That they had been forcing writers to pay for license fees when they had no right to do so.

"And I want to emphasize that we weren't asking for new laws-- just for everyone to follow the existing laws. And this ruling does not mean that all the Sherlock Holmes stories are out of copyright!"

Building a Book

Once the lawsuit was explained briefly (don't forget to use that link to Free Sherlock), talk turned to putting together books like A Study in Scarlet and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.

Laurie R. King having fun at The Poisoned Pen.
"Our poor publisher didn't have any idea what they were getting into, " King said, "but they persisted. It made for some rather complicated letters back and forth with our contributors because there had been deadlines set, and we had to tell them 'You know those deadlines? Well never mind because this is in court.' Then we'd win and tell them the deadlines were back on, and then the other side appealed, and we had to get back in touch with them to let them know there was a hold-up yet again. At the end I think we had three different covers depending on who was in the book and who wasn't. At least for book three we won't be going through all this!"

Leslie picked up the thread of the narrative. "When we set out to assemble the group of contributors, we wanted to go well beyond the mystery genre. I discovered years ago that some of my favorite science fiction writers are huge Sherlock Holmes fans."

"What we were looking for were writers who are a known quality, but not known for writing stories about Sherlock Holmes," King said. "There have been exceptions because we couldn't pass up the opportunity to have Neil Gaiman or John Lescroart.

"It all started with a conference when Les was asked whom he wanted to have on his Sherlock Holmes panel and he named the guests of honor...."

Barbara Peters listening to her friends.
"Jan Burke, Michael Connelly, Lee Child," Klinger supplied.

"And me!" Laurie said quickly. "But the people running the conference told him that these writers weren't known to be Sherlockians to which Les replied--"

"A-Hah! Trust me!" exclaimed Les the Obliging. "It was a great panel, and every time someone would ask an intricate question about Holmes, Jan or Michael or Lee would say, 'Well, I don't know very much about Sherlock Holmes, but....' and then proceed to give a brilliant, erudite answer. Afterwards I said to Laurie, 'Maybe those people should write stories for our anthology?' We'd just finished a Sherlock anthology published by the Baker Street Irregulars.

"Let me tell you a bit about the editing process because I know it will come up in the questions," Klinger said. "I was actually petrified by the idea of editing a story written by-- say-- Michael Connelly or Jeff Deaver or Laura Lippman. These are writers so far above me in skill that I passed that task off to Laurie. My job as co-editor was to make sure all the contracts were signed, and to check technical aspects of the stories. I kept thinking I would catch these authors in errors on Sherlockian facts, but I never did!"

"I've dealt with editors all my life," King said. "I know that the best editing isn't telling someone 'I think if you had this character do this instead of that character,' it's more a case of saying 'I think you need to clarify this for the reader.' We've only had one story that didn't make logical sense, and it took a little diplomatic back and forth to work everything out."

"I'm eighty years old!"

Laurie and Les talked a bit more about the stories in the collection, but there's always an exception. The exception for In the Company of Sherlock Holmes was the story by Harlan Ellison. "Harlan Ellison's story in this collection is so brilliant that I don't understand it," said Klinger. "And of course I wouldn't dare change a word because Harlan would say 'I'm eighty! I'm eighty years old! It's this way or the highway!'"

Laurie nodded in agreement. "That's basically... any question we had about audio rights or editorial stuff, he would say 'I'm eighty, and I don't need to do anything.'"  

"Six weeks before the deadline for this book, Harlan called and said, 'Hey look, I never should've said yes to doing this story. I am so over-committed. I can't do this story' which is true-- he's five years behind on commitments to other anthologies-- so we said we understood." Klinger laughed and continued, "Then with two weeks to go, Harlan called and said, 'Is it too late? I've got the idea. I've almost finished it....' We said 'We'll wait!'"

Available Now!
"So we called Pegasus and said, 'Hold the cover!'" King said.

"Again," Les added. "He did make it in time, but he was the last one in the door."

More wonderful anecdotes ensued about the authors who contributed illustrations and graphic short stories for both anthologies as well as the ins and outs of payments and the like. Once again, this will not be a blow-by-blow recap, or you'll feel as though you're reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. I urge any of you who are interested to check out the whole event on Livestream

One thing that Leslie Klinger emphasized is that every writer involved had a blast because they were all friends who were thrilled to be able to "play in a different sandbox."

"Some of these writers turned out to be closeted Sherlockians," Laurie King said. "Some of the stories are very firmly rooted in the canon while others are very subtle."

"And who knew Sara Paretsky  wanted to do a serious Sherlock Holmes pastiche?" Klinger exclaimed. "If you read Amazon reviews, you'll see that some people are disappointed that these aren't collections of stories about Sherlock Holmes. They aren't pastiches. They aren't stories written to sound like Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. But those people are like the person who criticized my New Annotated Sherlock Holmes because it had that cloud of footnotes around it. Didn't you read the cover where it said 'annotated'? The cover on this book [In the Company of Sherlock Holmes] says 'inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes'!"

"Can't you do a book that..."

From Sherlock Holmes, Barbara turned the talk to other books Leslie Klinger has done, in particular his newest book, The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. "It's another case of people coming up to me and saying 'How do you pick these trendy authors?' Sherlock Holmes, Dracula...." said Klinger. "As for Lovecraft, more recent writers who have been influenced by him are Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Stephen King. Lovecraft was a young man when the Sherlock Holmes stories first began appearing, and he was greatly influenced by Conan-Doyle, but it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that academics began to acknowledge Lovecraft's influence on others. He's now considered to be as influential an American writer of short stories and the supernatural as Poe."

Barbara had one of The Poisoned Pen's staff bring over a copy of Klinger's book, and as Leslie quickly paged through it, we could all see how beautiful the edition was-- well worth the very reasonable $40 price.

Barbara joked about being afraid to put all the books on the same shelf in fear that the shelf would collapse, which prompted Les to tell us about an event in New York with Peter Straub in which a fan showed up with "all three Sherlock Holmes volumes, Dracula, Lovecraft, and all three of my Sandman books."

"Was he carrying them?" Barbara asked in wonderment.

"In a suitcase," Klinger replied. "That's forty pounds of books! I once had a friend ask 'Can't you do a book that weighs less than five pounds?'" 

Laurie King then made an observation that led Klinger to talk about a controversy that's been raging for the past few months. The awards handed out by the World Fantasy Convention are representations of a bust of H.P. Lovecraft. Several writers have said that they don't want him to be associated with the awards because Lovecraft was a well-known racist and anti-Semitic. Les did a marvelous job of explaining Lovecraft without excusing his behavior.

A Little Q&A

Someone asked Laurie how she thought the court ruling would affect film and books-- would there be more or less Sherlock-- and the author replied that she believed the television and film industries would continue to send checks to the Conan-Doyle estate for licenses because it's what they're used to doing, and it's just easier. As for print, she surmised that first-time writers would be more likely to write more stories involving Holmes and the other characters because now they know that they can without having to pay anyone for the privilege.

Another person made both authors giggle with his question for Laurie. "Prior to The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I think the only time I heard a conservative Sherlockian say that Holmes may have had a relationship with an actual woman is the acknowledgement that he may have had a son by Irene Adler who grew up to be Nero Wolfe. Do you care about having gotten any negative feedback from the more conservative experts on Sherlockiana?"

Laurie R. King
"It's been an interesting arc," King admitted. "When the first book came out in 1994, I was not connected to the internet and didn't realize that I was being flamed regularly by the hounds of the internet, and that this happened every time a new book came out. I was in blissful ignorance of this

"By the time I became really conscious of a Sherlockian community, there were enough of them who felt reassured that I was not writing Sherlockian erotica-- some may have been disappointed..."

Amidst our laughter, Leslie Klinger told us, "There is a major collector of Sherlockian erotica!"

"Is there? Really?" asked Barbara.

"Oh yes!" said Klinger.

"In fact, Mr. Klinger is probably the world's expert on Sherlockian erotica. Over dessert, he'll tell you," replied King. "When they began to see that I had a tremendous amount of respect not only for the characters, but for Conan-Doyle, they welcomed me to their manly breasts. A lot of Sherlockians are not devout purists and are happy to play my game as well as theirs. I am now a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, so at least the Head Irregular thinks I'm kosher."

"I have the privilege of having been with Laurie through most of her career, and I remember having this very brisk discussion with her and her insisting that she was writing Mary Russell books, but that began to change after a while," said Peters.

Laurie nodded in agreement. "After I'd written three or four books, I became more interested in Sherlock as a person, and as the books progress you can begin to see the influence that Mary has on him and how his personality changes."

There were a few more questions about Lovecraft and Holmes, and then the evening drew to a close. This was a very special event for me not only because of the information and humor these three shared with us all, but because I got to observe three good friends truly enjoying each other's company. It was a bit of bliss, and possibly the reason why some readers want signed copies of books written by their favorite authors. If they attend events like this, those signatures are proof that they were part of this very special circle, too.

"Weave a circle 'round [them] thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For [they] on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise." (Or maybe they just attended one of The Poisoned Pen's extraordinary events. They even make me wax poetic!)


  1. Cathy - As always, a terrific write-up on a terrific place and event. I love the wit!! Glad as ever that you enjoyed yourself.

    1. As far as I'm concerned, Barbara Peters is a national treasure.

  2. I'm going to treat myself and read this on Thanksgiving. Yes, wish Barbara Peters owned a store in New York City, too.

    But Laurie King: I so wish she'd write more Kate Martinelli books, although I have enjoyed some in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes canon. She is a very smart woman.

    1. One of these days (I keep telling myself) I'll get around to reading one of her Kate Martinelli books!

  3. Great post, great review of the evening's doings.
    Oh, how I wish I were there, but the description here captures enough for me to enjoy it and not feel bereft.


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