An exclusive Authorlink interview with Leslie S. Klinger
Author of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (W.W. Norton, November 2004)
Sherlock Holmes has been a beloved literary figure since 1887, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first published his stories about the great detective and his affable and somewhat bungling sidekick, Dr. John Watson.
Whether the pair actually lived or sprang from Conan Doyle's imagination has been a matter of tongue-in-cheek debate for 150 years among devoted "Sherlocians." With the release of Leslie Klinger's THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES (WW Norton & Company, November 15, 2004), the mysterious game goes deliciously unrequited.
Legend holds that John Watson really lived and that Conan Doyle helped him write and publish the stories about Holmes. Because Watson concealed names, dates and places to protect the real-life Holmes, fans and scholars can argue over endless ambiguities. Sherlockians even have their own elite club, The Baker Street Irregulars.
Leslie Klinger, a world renowned Sherlocian, has researched and compiled 56 short adventures featuring, as John Le Carré put it, "the world's first private consulting detective." Le Carré has written the introduction to Klinger's collection, presented by Norton in two heavy clothbound volumes inside a colorful slip case. The volumes are indeed treasure chests of fresh, detailed information for anyone embroiled in the controversies surrounding the 19th century author, or in the pure adventures of Watson and Holmes. As if Klinger's remarkable tasks of organizing Conan Doyle's stories and collecting 702 vintage illustrations, weren't enough of a challenge, he has dug deeply into the historical times in which Watson and Holmes presumably lived. Drawing on 36 years of studying Conan Doyle's tales, Klinger vividly paints the period and locales in which the stories took place, and provides new insights into the ever widening theories of fans and academicians. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is an enriching experience for both the devotee and the newly curious who join the game for the first time.
Authorlink talked with Leslie Klinger about his research and writing, and asked him to comment on both the fiction and facts of Sherlock Holmes.
"I wanted to present the stories
in an accessible order, instead
of the idiosyncratic order
that Baring-Gould chose."
AUTHORLINK: It would seem that everything has been said and published about Sherlock Holmes. After all, in 1967 William Baring-Gould published the definitive ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES. What made you conclude that there was more to be said?
KLINGER: It was easy, because 37 years have passed since Baring-Gould's book was published. In the world of Sherlockiana, thousands of articles have appeared in specialized journals. The Baker Street Irregulars, for example, publishes its own quarterly magazine and an annual that now runs well over 300 pages, and a number of major books have been released since 1967. So, a lot of material was available. I wanted to present the stories in an accessible order, instead of the idiosyncratic order that Baring-Gould chose. Though I have been a fan for 36 years, I began my first organized Sherlock Holmes project five years ago, with the creation of a reference library. It was an academic set of books written like a law review, with extensive third party quotations, and page citations.
AUTHORLINK: So, how did the more commercial project begin?
KLINGER: My publisher, Norton, gets the credit for that. They had already staked out the annotated market on other topics and were familiar with the Baring-Gould project. Based on the other annotated books they had done, they decided to put out a new annotated Holmes, and they approached me to do the project.
AUTHORLINK You had a publisher before you found your agent?
KLINGER: Yes, it's very nice to be able to call an agent and say, I already have the publisher.
AUTHORLINK: And who is your agent, and your editor?
KLINGER: Donald Maass is my agent. My editor at Norton is Robert Weil.
AUTHORLINK: How did you find Maass?
KLINGER: My friend Daniel Stashower, author of Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle , referred me to Don, who is also Dan's agent. Don and my attorney Jonathan Kirchthe best publishing lawyer in the country and an old friendworked out the complex contract together. We had to negotiate with the existing publisher of my reference library , and the Conan Doyle estate because the Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (Collector's Library) remains in copyright.
AUTHORLINK: When did you become interested in Conan Doyle's stories?
KLINGER: I became interested in the stories when I was in law school. I was desperate to do something other than study, so to end the day I would read Baring-Gould's book. I got hooked. In 1968 I subscribed to The Baker Street Journal and I've been a Holmes junkie every since.
AUTHORLINK: What was the process of researching like?
KLINGER: I began collecting Holmes books in the early 1970s. My library contains 3500 books about Holmes, and hundreds of magazines. My wife looked at the collection one day and said, "Why don't you do something with all this material?" I started actually reading the books. Most collectors just want to own them. But as I got into it, I added Victorian resources, real Victorian books, including an 1888 edition of Britannica, and the Baedker Travel Guides from the turn of the century. Books such as these helped me put the Holmes stories into historical context.
AUTHORLINK: How did you find all of those wonderful illustrations?
KLINGER: It took a lot of searching. Some images were fairly simple to find. I now have the complete run of The Strand magazines where Conan Doyle first published his stories. They are now all bound into volumes in the order the stories originally appeared. Where I don't have the first edition, I have copies of the edition. Many illustrations came from the Victorian photo books I have bought over the years. Friends would help me find missing images. It was a lot of fun. In fact finding the illustrations was one of the biggest treats of the whole project.
AUTHORLINK: How did you get John Le Carré to write the introduction?
KLINGER: It was my publisher's idea. John Le Carré knew the stories, and when my editor approached him, he loved the idea. We were delighted he agreed.
"Looking at Norton's requirements, I compiled a list
of the best of Holmes. My rough selections alone covered
an estimated 700 pages."
AUTHORLINK: What was your first challenge with the project?
KLINGER: Looking at Norton's requirements, I compiled a list of the best of Holmes. My rough selections alone covered an estimated 700 pages. I thought, "How am I going to do this?" I called my editor and said, "Bob, this is going to turn out to be several phone books!" He said, "Do it!" The first two volumes were originally scheduled to contain 1300 pages, but they turned out to run about 1900 pages. The third volume, an annotated compilation of four Conan Doyle novels to be released in late 2005, will be close to 1000 pages.
AUTHORLINK: How could you possibly produce all of this work in such a short time while holding down your full-time law practice?
KLINGER: I have a supportive wife. Besides, I think sending me off to work on this project is her secret way to keep me out of her hair. I have spent a lot of weekends and early morning hours at this. I actually did the research and writing of the first two volumes over five or six years, editing my work as I went along. I approached the project as if it were another legal case. You just do it. Anyway, I love both the subject and the process.
AUTHORLINK: What exactly is The Baker Street Irregulars?
KLINGER: The organization started as a drinking club in the 1930s, but its roots are as a literary society. Historically, The Irregulars published books in the 1940s and 1950s. The current president wanted to beef up the society's publishing activities, so they began to publish their own manuscript series, including society history, and little-known works relating to Holmes. They published a four-volume history of the organization as well as facsimiles of Conan Doyle's manuscripts and related works. They also published Angels of Darkness, a Conan Doyle play that had never before been published; and the only extant chapter of the manuscript of Hound of the Baskervilles, plus a number of scholarly essays that put the stories into context. I am now editor of the manuscript series, which means my job is to supervise all the editors of the individual books. Thus far, there are four manuscript series books out, aimed at the serious student of Conan Doyle. They are published in limited runs of no more than about 500 copies.
AUTHORLINK: How far does this fascination with Sherlock Holmes extend across the globe?
KLINGER: People all over the world are intrigued with Holmes. The Irregulars has an international series of work, and is even publishing a collection of Japanese scholarship on Holmes. In fact, the Holmes Club in Japan is the largest in the world, and includes 100 years of scholarship, translated into English.
AUTHORLINK: Holmes devotees are almost like a cult. How large do you suppose this group is?
KLINGER: I'm not sure how you would define a Sherlocian, so it's not easy to tell how many there are. Among the hard core, perhaps 10,000 members. The average run of specialized books is only about 200 copies. Yet, about 500 people are invited to attend The Irregulars annual party. The Baker Street Journal has 1500 subscribers, and there are dozens of Holmes clubs in the U.S., each with 20 or 30 members. It is difficult to define how many Sherlockians are there in the world, maybe 10,000. And millions have seen the Sherlock Holmes films.
Norton's initial print run for my new two-book set is 35,000 copies. The 1933 un-annotated Doubleday edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes sold millions of copies and is still in print. The stories themselves have been translated into 80 languages. So, the interest ranges from the real Sherlockians to people who simply love the classic stories.
"Everyone who loves
Sherlock has tried their
hand at writing in that style."
AUTHORLINK: Describe your own struggle to break into publishing.
KLINGER: It was a struggle for me to publish the reference library. The volumes were so specialized. It was a small market even within the Holmes field. I talked to several specialty publishers. The first one to whom I submitted materials gave me a long list of criticisms about what I was doing wrong. I took the evaluation to heart, and fixed my mistakes. When I had finally gotten it right, Wessex Press leapt at it.
AUTHORLINK: Most of your work has been in the field of reference. Have you any desire to write fiction yourself?
KLINGER: Everyone who loves Sherlock has tried their hand at writing in that style. I once published a short story for Otto Peuzler, called "Adventure of the Wooden Box"and got it out of my system. If ever I find that little shop where they sell ideas then I could be a fiction writer. But I believe I am well suited for nonfiction writing. It's my lawyer background. I like reading other people's stories. I'm in awe of great fiction writers and their creative talent.
AUTHORLINK: What guidance would you offer to other writers struggling to break into publishing?
KLINGER: Make sure you're passionate about what you do. Think about the way you are writing nonfiction. You don't need to dumb things down, so long as you are clearly communicating the idea. Organize, organize, organize. Do all that stuff we learned in high school about topic sentences and transition. It makes sense. If you are writing nonfiction, have a roadmapat least a mental outline of where you are going. Then write with passion, and think about who your audience is.
"The stories are mysteries
in themselves. They are not what we expect from mysteries
AUTHORLINK: What keeps the Sherlock Holmes stories relevant for today's audiences? Clever storylines? Clever thinking? Puzzles? "Scandal in Bohemia," for example, is a story of a man being outwitted by a woman? "The Red Headed League" is about an ingenious bank robbery?
KLINGER: The stories are not what we expect from mysteries of today. They are not puzzles like Agatha Christie's stories. The sophisticated reader today might see the Holmes tales as clichés. But when the stories were first published nobody had done this before. Nobody had come up with a continuing character. Edgar Allen Poe invented the super rational detective. Doyle invented Watson, and we became hooked on him. The Strand magazine was first to serialize stories about the same character. When Doyle killed off Holmes in 1893, 20,000 fans canceled their subscriptions to the magazine, So, Doyle had to bring him back. In 1903, Watson revealed that Holmes was alive and well, and a new series began. Doyle's last story was written in 1927, 40 years after the first story appeared.
AUTHORLINK: How do you think Conan Doyle would fare as a writer in today's market?
KLINGER: It's impossible to judge. Every mystery writer today acknowledges a great debt to Holmes stories. If we had a clean slate, upon which we'd never read a mystery story before would we appreciate Holmes? I think so. Would somebody starting afresh today with a Holmes character succeed? I can't imagine it would happen. The stories are not sophisticated enough. They are not written in the style of today. These stories continue to intrigue us today because of our nostalgia for the Victorian age and our search for knowledge about the times, plus knowing these are two of the most interesting literary characters ever created.
"I call it "gentle fiction."
It gives you a nice way
to approach the stories."
AUTHORLINK: What makes the ongoing game so intriguing to the public? And which is it, anyway, fact. . .or fiction?
KLINGER: My answer is. . . yes! [with a twist of irony in his voice]. The game has been played for more than 100 years. I call it "gentle fiction." It gives you a nice way to approach the stories. If the stories are Watson's biography, rather than fiction, we have a reason to dig into the Victorian culture. What's most interesting for me is to learn something about the Victorian era that I might not have otherwise known. For example, one of Conan Doyle's stories depicts a doctor using artificial respiration. It's interesting to learn that doctors were using that technique in the 1800sa fascinating nugget buried within the story.
In the story, "A Case of Identity," Holmes talks about a woman leaving her husband, Watson says that it's the same old story of drunkenness. However, the man was accused of throwing his false teeth at his wife. Domestic abuse and dentures were central to the story, true to the problems of the period. So, we can approach these stories as history rather than fiction. It gives us an excuse to study and enjoy the age. I think that's part of the appeal. The characters of Holmes and Watson are brilliant, immortal. Holmes appeals to us the way we think we'd like to be. Perhaps we're not sure upon reflection, but we think we would. We'd also like to be like Dr. Watsondependable, smart, a caring friend (or at least we'd like to have a friend like Watson).
The big question is why did Conan Doyle's name get on spine of the books? Why did Watson let Doyle's name appear as the author? (People can't see me winking here, but the mystery of it is all part of the game.)
As the poet and mystery writer Vincent Starrett once said, "Only the things the heart believes are true!" There are those who say that Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse aren't real. But then there are millions of people who would say they are realin the heart.
Leslie Klinger and his wife live in Malibu, CA. Visit his web site at http://lesliesklinger.com/