Q&A with Lyndsay Faye

For those who haven’t read The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, how would you describe it?

It's my attempt to recreate the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, written over the course of almost ten years now. So it's been a long time coming! But I decided to arrange mine chronologically and put all the stories into sections about particular parts of Holmes's and Watson's lives together--friends running around and solving crimes. They're adventure stories that are also about courage and loyalty and forgiveness, written in as close to the original voice as I can.   


You have written another book about Holmes, Dust and Shadow. What first drew you to his character?

Well, he's fascinating. I think it would be terribly uncomfortable to be Sherlock Holmes. He's too intelligent to rest easily, he observes too much, he deeply empathizes with people (and anyone who can't see that is definitely missing a major part of his character). He wants the world to be a better place. And he's an example of a person who is deeply lonely, and doesn't particularly like other humans, but he has one friend, and that's enough. I think that's a lovely idea.

One of us (Autumn) is a Sherlock Holmes devotee. How did you navigate the task of honoring Holmes’s reputation, and thus winning over Sherlockians, while still adding your own style?  

Frankly I would never have set out to write these if I weren't obsessed with Doyle's language and characters. So I don't consciously add my own style. I know I do add my own voice by accident, because it's my brain writing them, but as a devoted Sherlockian myself, that's as minimalized as I can make it. What I try to do accomplish is filling in the blank spaces Sir Arthur left out, so I suppose the choices regarding plot are my style, but the regard for Holmes's reputation is paramount.   

Holmes is known for untangling impossibly complicated mind problems and these stories do not disappoint. What was your process for creating and then solving the mysteries? 

Oh, thank you! They're tricky, to be honest. I don't blame Doyle for having grown exhausted from writing them. You basically have to come up with an impossible or inexplicable situation, and then invent a solution that makes sense. What I do is invent something grotesque or outre first, and then create clues around that occurrence. And I do a lot of research into Victorian culture--Henry Mayhew's Lond Labour and the London Poor, for example. The devil is in the details.

What do you say to those who don’t take mysteries seriously or categorize it as “genre fiction” and only read them at the beach?

I would say that I love reading at the beach, and I don't believe in guilty pleasures. If you take pleasure in it, then that's fabulous, and skip the guilt. Read it at the beach! Or on your couch! There's no problem in reading something for pleasure. The problem starts when people decide that certain types of stories are somehow inherently more "artistic" than others. A good example would be that I could take any number of sentences from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and set them against F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and argue that they are all just as relevant and gorgeous and evocative and resonant regarding American culture. And they're both about crimes. So who decided that Chandler wrote mysteries and Fitzgerald wrote literature? Crime and death happen in both. The question continues to puzzle me. But people should never ever be ashamed of reading something that speaks to them.  

We are major fans of Jane Steele your novel that also draws inspiration from historical literary characters. How did you first become interested in writing about classic literary characters?  

Classic literary characters were my friends when I was growing up, because I was a huge nerd. I continue to be a huge nerd. Thank you for the kind words about Jane Steele--one of the reasons I do this is because I've never taken a creative writing class, but I was trained as an actor, so I'm a decent mimic. I love recreating the sounds and syntax and vocabulary of other authors. I also wrote the Timothy Wilde trilogy, The Gods of Gotham etc., and with Tim I got to create my own style. Still historical, and those ones really indulge my love of the English language. But most of the time, I'm attempting to inhabit a character, the way an actor inhabits a character, and Jane was one of my favorite exploits in that arena.  

Here at the Reading Women, we’re all about amazing female voices in literature. What women have inspired your writing?  

Charlotte Bronte. Alice Walker. Toni Morrison. Daphne DuMaurier. Baroness Orczy. I love JK Rowling and how she wrote Severus Snape--he's one of my all time favorite imaginary people. What can I say, I'm an omnivore.

What books do you presently (or recently) have on your nightstand?

Oh, I was sent a copy of The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby and am very much liking it so far. It's quite dark and philosophical and that's always lovely. But since we're talking about female writers and amazing female voices in literature, I also never let Natasha Pulley's The Watchmaker of Filigree Street get very far from my nightstand. I read it many months ago, but it keeps ending up by my bed or near my desk.

Buy the Book | Lyndsay's Website


Lyndsay Faye is the author of five critically acclaimed books: Dust and Shadow; The Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel; Seven for a Secret; The Fatal Flame; and Jane Steele. Faye, a true New Yorker in the sense she was born elsewhere, lives in New York City with her husband, Gabriel.

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