I doubt I’m the only Unboxer who has accepted an offer to write something while having no idea whatsoever how I was going to get the job done. The process of feeling my way from that conceptual blank page to something worth reading provides what is quaintly referred to these days as “a teachable moment.”
Allow me to explain.
Last fall, I was asked by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King if I would like to contribute something to their periodic anthology of stories based on Sherlock Holmes.
This is a plum assignment. Les Klinger is an internationally recognized Holmes authority (editor of both the three-volume The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and the scholarly ten-volume Sherlock Holmes Reference Library), and Laurie King is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed series featuring Mary Russell, protégé and eventual wife of Sherlock Holmes. They know their onions. And they do not suffer fools.
The anthology (there have been five editions so far) features writers of the first rank—this edition is no exception, as the list at the end of this post bears out—it routinely gets widespread notice, it has earned a loyal and growing readership, and it typically earns stellar reviews. There are no constraints on the author’s imagination—there have been futuristic Sherlocks, medieval Sherlocks, women Sherlocks, feline Sherlocks—you get the idea. Not even outer space is out of bounds. Who wouldn’t say yes to such an intriguing offer?
One problem. At the time I accepted this assignment, I had the somewhat unique distinction among writers in my genre of knowing next to nothing about Sherlock Holmes.
That, of course, didn’t stop me from saying yes, adding boldly that I intended to write my story from the perspective of Holmes’s arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.
Second problem. I knew even less about Moriarty than I did about Holmes.