Join me this week to ramble on with author Jess Faraday.
Jess Faraday is the author of one novel, three book translations, a handful of short stories, and numerous nonfiction articles. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona (B.A.) and UCLA (M.A.). Since then, she has earned her daily bread in a number of questionable ways, including translation, lexicography, copyediting, teaching high school Russian, and hawking shoes to the overprivileged offspring of Los Angeles-area B-listers. She enjoys martial arts, the outdoors, strong coffee and a robust Pinot Noir. She also receives a trickle of income from Faraday Bags, her line of data shielding handbags and clothing. She is also a reviewer at Speak Its Name.
ANTHONY: Hi, Jess! Thanks for joining us.
JESS: Hi! ::waves::
ANTHONY: Let’s start with THE AFFAIR OF THE PORCELAIN DOG’s genre. What drew you to writing historical mysteries featuring LGBT characters, rather than working in a different genre or more current time-frame?
JESS: The Affair of the Porcelain Dog began as an exercise for my writing group. The challenge was to take a character from a WIP and put her/him in a different setting. I’m a longtime Holmes fan and have always had a thing for Victorian London, so I took a magician’s apprentice from a swords and sorcery novel I was working on and dropped him into a Holmes story. As I worked on the story, the characters grew beyond the boundaries of Doyle’s world and took on a life of their own. Four years later, the little 700-word fic had become its own 77,000 word novel.
I didn’t start out intending to be a Writer Of Historicals, but research kept turning up these nuggets that just screamed to become their own stories. My current WIP, for instance, arose from research about the history of Scotland Yard. The Yard has its roots in the Sûreté, the Paris Police. The original Sûreté was a network of informants and reformed criminals, quite a few of whom were women–in the early 19th century. Who’d’a thunk it? At that point, I knew I *had* to write a story about one of those women.
And now I’m just Hooked on History.
Why work with LGBT characters? Oh so many reasons. But as regards Porcelain Dog, while researching, I came across the 1885 Labouchere Amendment. This piece of…legislation expanded the law against criminal sodomy (rarely prosecuted as it required physical evidence to prove) to include any act–or attempted act–of “indecency” between men, as reported by a single witness. The justification for enacting what amounted to a blackmailer’s charter was to protect women and children from exploitation (yeah, think about that for a moment). The parallels with the current arguments against full civil rights for LGBT people were too great to ignore. I knew it had to be part of the story.
ANTHONY: I’ve been describing AFFAIR to everyone I meet as “Sherlockian,” (a term that is becoming more popular thanks to the book by that name), and almost gleefully so. The book is stuffed with allusions to Conan Doyle’s works. Aside from the time and place (late 1800s London), your main character’s name is Ira Adler, a nod to The Woman of the Holmes canon, Irene Adler. I’m sure that was purposeful, but can you talk a bit about the connections, literally and figuratively, between Ira and Irene?
JESS: Hee hee! I’m tickled that you saw that. If anyone else has, they haven’t mentioned it =)
Ira began as Moriarty’s Watson. As the story expanded and evolved to include the Labouchere Amendment, it became clear that he was more than just the crime lord’s assistant. And if the Great Detective’s Lost Love was Irene Adler, what would be a fitting name for the Crime Lord’s man?
ANTHONY: You also have two characters who served in Afghanistan, just like Doyle’s Doctor John Watson and Colonel Sebastian Moran. Your doctors seem to split Watson’s traits (and in at least one case, Moran’s) between them. Was that a conscious decision or did it just progress naturally as you introduced each character?
JESS: Dr. Lazarus’s backstory, and subsequently Dr. Acton’s character, developed out of the need to explain Lazarus’s stake in the opium plot. Lazarus isn’t stupid. He might have been sentimental about Ira, but he wasn’t going to put himself in danger over it. He needed to have a compelling personal reason to become involved in such a dangerous case.
While researching the history of the opium trade, I came across the story of the massacre of Elphinstone’s army and camp followers. After being promised safe passage from Kabul to Jalalabad, the 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 camp followers were massacred by tribesmen–everyone, save for a single British surgeon and a handful of Indian soldiers in service to the British. Originally, I thought to give Dr. Lazarus that bit of heroism in his past, but it didn’t fit the timeline. Then I thought what a tough SOB someone would become who survived something like that, and I gave it to Dr. Acton.
I really didn’t have Colonel Moran in mind at all. Although I may think about it in the next installment! =)
ANTHONY: Interestingly, you opt to “sideline” the characters most like Holmes and Moriarty at first glance, and concentrate on “the sidekicks.” Was there ever a point where you thought about giving more screen-time to the would-be Great Detective and Master Criminal?
Ira sprang to life and stole the show. It was always his story, no question.
I’ve always been more interested in the sidekicks than the “stars”. If you want to dig deeper, I identify with them. I’m definitely a second-in-command type person, and it annoys me to see the sidekick get short shrift. Some of my favorite stories, like Without a Clue, are told from the point of view of the assistant, the sidekick, the junior, the secretary or housekeeper. So this was the kind of story I set out to write.
ANTHONY: I could go on with the Holmes comparisons forever, but let’s move on. There is a somewhat complex web of inter-relationships between the “heroes” and “villains” of the piece. Did you map all of that out before beginning the book, or did it come together as you progressed?
JESS: Some things I outline ahead of times, and other things develop while I’m writing the scenes in the outline. The nest of snakes that is the MCs relationships developed as I went along.
ANTHONY: I’m always interested in process, so that question leads somewhat logically to these: how heavily did you plot/outline the book and how far did you deviate, if at all, from the original plan?
JESS: This was the book that taught me to outline.
I wrote the first half of the book “organically”, and then realized if Ira was going to get himself out of the hole he’d dug, and explain how circumstances conspired to get him there, there would have to be a plan. I rewrote the book four times before I made that discovery, and wow, was that a lot of time wasted.
For my current WIP, I had to submit an outline to my publisher before they’d OK the project, and I’m glad. It’s a lot easier to work the plot kinks out of 20 pages of outline than out of 400 pages of text!
I don’t outline in great detail–just enough to figure out what happens and why. A lot of ideas come to light as I’m writing. But it’s important for me to have the main plot points already decided and set up in a logical cause-and-effect manner.
ANTHONY: How much research did you do in the period the book is set in, especially in regards to society’s view of homosexuality and male prostitution?
JESS: A LOT.
I read a ton of primary source material, and even double-checked the etymology of most words to make sure that they were appropriate to the time and place. I researched medicine and medical superstition. Entertainment. Lighting. Food. Personal grooming. Transportation. Law. Underwear. I even consulted a few Real Live English People regarding phrasing and word choice. BSB made me change the spelling back to American standard, but yes, I wanted that to be authentic as well.
Doing history right is a lot of work. I did a lot of work, and I hope most readers will think that I did the history right.
ANTHONY: I know I’d really love to see more of Ira Adler and Timothy Lazarus and the rest of the cast. Will you be writing a sequel? You left your main characters in a very good place for further adventures.
JESS: There are two more books planned. The next one will give Lazarus a bigger role, and may even include some sections told from his POV. The third will be set abroad, and will be full of surprises for all of the characters. But first I have to finish the current WIP.
I’m trying to alternate books with female protagonists with the Ira Adler books. So after the current WIP (female detective, 1827 Paris), there will be Adler’s second book. Then a noir story (female detective, 1943 Los Angeles), then Adler’s third. All of this depends, of course upon whether my publisher agrees.
ANTHONY: What else are you working on at the moment?
JESS: Right now I’m working on a mystery set in 1827 Paris. The heroine is a Sûreté agent and former criminal, and, in the course of a kidnapping investigation, her crimes come back to bite her in the…dossier.
I also have a short story coming out in an anthology called Women of the Dark Streets (Bold Strokes Books, Spring 2012). It’s set in 1943 Los Angeles, and features a mouthy female detective and a mangy mutt that’s quite a bit more than it appears.
ANTHONY: Well, as much as I now love Ira and Timothy, I’m intrigued by your 1943 female gumshoe as well. Can’t wait to read her adventures. Now, for my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them to read it?
JESS: That’s a tough one. And it changes. Right now, I would have to say it’s “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. Why is this book so great? Let me count the reasons. First, it makes 700+ pages fly by as if they were 70–and that’s a magic trick if you ask me. Second, because it’s everything that a great supernatural story should be: a well-constructed story, don’t-read-at-night creepy–but in a subtle way, and without gore–with a plot that transcends genre. It’s also an incredibly well-researched historical that spans dizzying expanses of time and space. And it’s a lovely story about different kinds of relationships–none of them romantic. I’ve read that the author received a two million dollar advance. In my opinion, she earned every penny of it.
ANTHONY: Thank you, Jess!
JESS: Thank you!