Today I have something very exciting for you! You all probably know this but I absolutely adore the Warlock Holmes series by G. S. Denning, and as a matter of fact, A Study in Brimstone (the first book), as the first book I read in 2017!
I was then thinking because of that, it would be fitting for my wonderful interview with the man himself, G. S. Denning, to be my first full blog post of 2018!
So here we are! I had the absolute honour of talking with Gabe, and discussing all things Warlock Holmes! He even gave me some spoilers for Book 3 that I’m allowed to share with you! Excited? Let’s get straight into it then!
Hello! To kick us off, tell us a bit about yourself!
A bit about myself. Err… I’m old. 42. But that’s about the perfect age for a geek. I was born just when video games and D&D were invented and we all grew up together. All those characters that keep getting rebooted and reused and are the absolute cornerstones of geek culture came out when I was a kid.
I first met Mario before we knew his name (back in Donkey Kong). I remember when ghostbusters came out. I remember Princess Bride. I missed the first Star Wars theatrical release, because I was only 2, but it came around for its second run when I was 3 so the Death Star blowing up is among my first memories in life. Now, I’m moving from a consumer of geek-culture to a producer. Well… That’s a lie. I’m totally both.
What inspired you to create the world of Warlock Holmes?
The world of Warlock Holmes wasn’t hard. I spent 15 years in improv theater. We’d get the story of somebody’s first date or a time they cheated on a test and do it in the style of Shakespeare or Film Noir or Mexican Soap-Opera. So I had a good background in parody, already in place when the idea of Warlock Holmes occurred to me. It wasn’t a stretch at all. Just do Sherlock Holmes as a comic-fantasy. Easy. The setting—Victorian London—is so familiar and so ready for mockery that it was no trouble to dive right in.
What made you want to be an author?
Improv. That’s what made me want to be a writer. At first I thought I was training to be an actor, but after 5 or 6 years, I realized: you can be a crappy actor and the audience will still love you. If you know how to craft a good story—how to give them satisfying twists and turns and characters they can care about—they’ll love you. Turns out I’d been studying writing, the whole time. I’d been making up 4-8 stories per night in front of a few hundred people who weren’t shy about letting me know if I was doing a good job or not.
The books are written in case files rather than chapters (which I LOVE), but what made you do this unique style?
Parody. My books are laid out like that because the material I’m making fun of was laid out like that. The hard part is making all the short stories come together into a cohesive whole. Luckily, X-files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me how to make that work. I’ve got a series arch, laid out on page 1 of book 1: this is the story of Moriarty tricking Holmes into starting a demon apocalypse. Then each book has an arch. Book 1 is the intro. Book 2 is Watson coming into his own as an adventurer and the (partial) origin of Holmes. Book 3 is the villains attacking for the first time. Book 4 is Watson’s disastrous attempt to understand magic. And then each individual story has its own arch: the parody of the original mystery. Simple, right?
Was it hard to write Sherlock in such a different way, since Warlock and Sherlock are very different?
It wasn’t hard. Because, in a way, they’re not all that different. Both Warlock and Sherlock have abilities that astound the regular people around them. And because they think and act so differently they are ostracized and mistrusted by the normal folk—even the ones who need their help. Luckily, they’ve got a Watson to be their bridge to humanity. Sherlock and Warlock each have great powers to solve mysteries, but there’s a decent chance they forget to put their pants on first, without Watson there to remind them. Sure, Sherlock’s power is deduction, while Warlock’s is all those demons but the core of the two characters is the same.
Did you do any research of the original novels, or anything else before writing?
I didn’t do very much research, to be honest. I did Study in Brimstone first, because it was the start of Doyle’s series so it needed to be the start of mine. Then the second story I parodied was Hound of the Baskervilles, because—well—there’s a hell-hound in it. Honestly I hadn’t read the whole Holmes cannon until we’d sold the Warlock series. I pretty much hung up the phone with Titan Books and screamed, “Honey, we need to go to Barnes and Noble right now!”
Who is your favourite character to write? Who is the hardest to write for?
My favorite changes all the time. It’s becoming one of the ways I can tell when I’m doing well. When I’m doing a bit with Lestrade and Lestrade’s my favorite character to write, the scene tends to fly. If I’m doing a bit on him and he’s my 5th favorite, the scene is probably headed for the dumper.
The hardest? Irene Adler. By far. She doesn’t come into her own until book 3, so you won’t know what I’m talking about until next May. Basically, the difficulty of getting her right, combined with her massive importance has made her a real hurdle. She was only in one of the 60 original stories, but she’s a cornerstone of almost every modern Holmes interpretation. Oh, and she’s a temptress. She’s objectified and self-objectifying and smart enough to use that as a weapon. I’m a straight, white male writing books for a very progressive geek community and a largely female readership. And I’ve got to write a seductress? The line between not offending and not disappointing is a thin one. Irene Adler is not a character; she’s a minefield.
Have you always been a fan of the original novels by Arthur Conan Doyle?
Er… Sort of? I had read very little of the original canon. I enjoyed what I’d read. As a fan of history, I respect the role the originals had, both in literature and in changing the way the world’s police forces solved crimes. Oddly, Doyle’s stories proved a major force for changing judicial proceedings from interview-everybody-and-believe-the-richest-person to nobody-speaks-louder-than-the-clues. True story: one of the first American Holmes enthusiasts was a detective. He used Sherlock Holmes’s deductive method to catch America’s first serial killer—a man named H.H. Holmes, of all things. So, that’s a roundabout way to say that, though I’ve always had a healthy respect for the originals, I’m a long way from a true Holmesian.
If you could say one thing to Arthur Conan Doyle, or have one conversation with him, what would you say?
Oh my God, I’m so glad I can’t have a conversation with Arthur Conan Doyle! He’s probably just sit there making disapproving eyebrows at me for about 15 minutes, then say, “You’re a thief.” Then, since I’d have no grounds to refute him, I’d probably say, “Oh yeah? Well you did a bunch of drugs and wasted your best years touring the world, teaching everyone fairies were real!” Then, things would probably go downhill from there. Ugh. Jesus. I need to sit down for a minute and catch my breath. That’s the most horrifying interview question I’ve ever been asked.
Haha I’m so sorry!!! Do you have any advice for students at university and might be struggling?
Yeah. Stop struggling. You’re at university. Enjoy it. Look around. Find what fascinates you. Find what you love. Find what you’re good at. Then, when you’ve got an inkling of what it is, do that. Do it with all your heart. You’ll probably find yourself working harder than you ever have before, but you won’t be struggling. Keep doing what you love and try to do it better, each time you do it. Oh, but if you’re like me and the thing you love isn’t *ahem* all that profitable, maybe you’d better find a career that you don’t hate that will pay the bills while you chase your dreams. Half the time I spent writing books 1-3 I was wearing scrubs. By day, I’m an MRI tech.
Most of the main characters from the Sherlock novels are in your books, but are very ‘different’ – how did you come up with the ideas to change each character?
That’s the core of parody. The characters, story, setting and even themes must be recognizable, but changed. Half the meaning of a parody is seen only when it’s contrasted to the original. That said, some of my choices are a bit… shall we say… cavalier? Honestly, I had no idea what to do with Lestrade, until I remembered Anne Rice’s book The Vampire Lestat. Boom. Done. Now I had two characters—him and Warlock—who were monstrous outsiders. The theme was beginning to build itself. Watson was going to come to love these guys. He was going to choose to side with these abnormal folks, against the mainstream he so treasured.
The final add-in I came up with in the core gang was Grogsson. Well the original was Tobias Gregson. His last name means, literally, “the son of Greg”. Fine. I was going to do a character who was the son of Grog. I’m sure Grog must have succumbed to a huge mob of normal people with pitchforks, torches, pikes and blunderbusses after smashing a few hundred of his antagonists to paste. Yeah, and I wanted the final member of Warlock’s team to be the barely-civilized next-generation—an ogre hiding in plain sight. Playing along at being a human, but ever in danger of just having everything unravel in a huge carnage-fest.
Each character has a little story like that behind them. Each one needs its own thought process.
What inspired the idea behind each case? Was it purely the Sherlock novels?
Each of these was its own thought process, too. Some of them were calculated choices, some from the hip. For example, in my Adventure of that Yellow Bastard, I wanted to take some of the sympathetic-yet-horrible-by-modern-standards treatment Doyle showed to minorities in The Adventure of the Yellow Face and apply it to actual monsters. In both cases, it was the story of love creating a non-traditional family structure. It fit the theme of the first book, which was Watson learning to love the monsters around him.
Then again, sometimes it’s less systematic than that. The Blue Gob-Runkle started with my frustration at a particular mistake Arthur Conan Doyle made in The Blue Carbuncle. There I was, staggering around in my garage, not half-sober, shouting “God damn it, Archie! Geese don’t have crops!” at the wall. Ah… The life of an artist…
Was it difficult writing a novel based off of novel that already had such a strong fanbase?
I took my inspiration from Brian Singer and the excellent job he did with the first two X-men movies. I saw an interview where he was asked about his feelings when he heard he’d be directing them. I think the interviewer assumed he was a huge X-men fan who’d just been handed the chance of a lifetime. Turns out Singer, um… sort of knew who the X-men were. He never particularly cared about them before he got the assignment. But he knew that plenty of people did. He knew he’d been handed the keys to a franchise that was loved by millions and he needed to make them happy, not disappointed. I’m trying to do the same.
Yes, I’m making fun of Sherlock Holmes. But lovingly. I never want to make anyone feel bad for loving Sherlock Holmes. I want to give them a present—something new to laugh at, based on their old favorite.
What are your plans for the future? I hope we’re getting more Warlock Holmes novels! I love them!
Well, you’re going to get your wish. Book 3: My Grave Ritual comes out May 2018. Titan has put an offer in on books 4 and 5, but they know it would take me probably 9 books to parody all 60 of the original stories. I’m pretty sure they’re of the mind that as long as you geeks keep buying them, they’ll have me keep writing them. Personally, I’m all in.
Wasn’t that interview just amazing! It’s definitely one of my favourites I’ve done, Gabe you are amazing!
Anyway now it’s time for some SUPER SECRET SPOILERS for Book 3!!! G. S. Denning has told me I’m allowed to share these with you for the first time, so here we go! If you haven’t read the first two books – LOOK AWAY NOW!!
- It’s the first book that is all short stories, no novella.
- It’s the first time Moriarty strikes at Holmes and Watson.
- Irene Adler crosses swords with the boys in two separate stories and kicks the crap out of ‘em, both times.
- There’s a blatant fan-fic/cosplay opportunity in the person of Violet Hunter.
- Oh, and speaking of cosplay, I want to see what you guys can do with Rachel Howls. You’re gonna need two grass skirts, a maid’s uniform, at least one stuffed goat and a bunch of dirt.
- And one more to leave it with… let’s see… Ah! This book has the first story told by Holmes, rather than Watson.
I’m so excited for this next book!!
Until next time,