From the Desk of Emma Jane Holloway
What don’t I write about?
Long ago I firmly decided against zombies, because they are unhygienic and terrible conversationalists. Furthermore, one cannot invite them to a book launch party because they drink all the champagne and then eat the serving staff. Writer friends of mine have had bitter experience with a number of celebrated hotels that will no longer take their calls. So no, I do not write about zombies. Much. If one does squelch onstage unbidden from time to time, I ensure it is tossed out before the canapés arrive.
Zombies might be about the only thing I refrain from writing about—much—since my mission as a writer seems to be raiding the genre supply closet to see what goodies I can find. In that regard, I’m much more a Frankenstein girl. I’ve never seen the problem with helping myself to whatever I need to create some brave new literary monster.
A scene at the supply closet might unfold in the following manner:
Author: Hand me that mechanical squid.
Author: And the aether rifle. And the goggles.
Editor: (despairing tones) Why?
Author: I have a ballroom scene. Trust me, it’s all good.
Perhaps I am wearing (metaphorically speaking) mystery shoes, a fantasy handbag, and a hat from the comedy shelf—but never without purpose, and never without striving for style. If I introduce a loaded automaton, you can be sure I will employ it before the last page—though it might not be in the expected fashion. A Study in Silks is the first of the Baskerville Affair trilogy, and that means that there is room to develop a great deal of satisfying mischief.
Mixing it up is a time-honored tradition. Many books with a steampunk flavor cross genres, and authors writing before mass market was even a concept—Stevenson, Dumas, and Collins to name a few—just got on with the business of good storytelling. They were inventing genres, not trying to stay within self-imposed lines. Readers seemed to like that modus operandi well enough that now those works bear the designation “classic.” No arguments there.
For me, any successful story—whatever its elements—is driven by characters. I remember personalities—Milady or Monte Cristo or Mr. Rochester—and the more complicated they are, the better. A cast of blandly likeable people has no place on my reading shelf, nor does a universe that works like a dispensing machine, consistently matching right action with rewards. I’d rather have zombies! Or perhaps those likeable drones are the zombies?
Give me real people. It’s possible to be heroic and still make a mess of things. The best efforts can still end in disaster. Villains might inadvertently—or even intentionally—show compassion. Give me a story where characters walk through hell before the end of the road, presuming they come through at all. Give me a story that makes me worry a little so that I’m eager to keep on reading.
My primary goal is to write a cracking good adventure that will entertain. I want to summon characters that people will remember and care about long after the cover is closed. That is far more important to me than checking the boxes that say “this is mystery” or “this is romance.” All the reader needs to know is that I’m doing my best to keep them in their comfy chairs, book in hand, even though their tea has gone cold and the windows have darkened. Dinner can wait. Just throw another zombie on the fire and start the next chapter.
Emma Jane Holloway