First, a little shameless self-promotion. The new issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the February number, starts with one story of mine and ends with another, which I consider a career highlight, right up there with being published in Queen for the first time in 1999. In between those bookend stories, the February issue contains six other tales, including a great one by SleuthSayers alumnus David Dean, "Murder Town." My contributions are two Sherlock Holmes parodies: "The Red-Headed League" and "A Case of Identity." These stories are follow-ups to "A Scandal in Bohemia," which Queen ran last year. It was my first Holmes parody.
Or do I mean pastiche? That's the question that occupies me today: Am I writing parody or pastiche? Ellery Queen straddles the fence, referring to my stories as parodies here and pastiches there. Could they be both? Could parody be a form of pastiche? That seems reasonable to me, but not to Wikipedia, the all knowing. It defines pastiche as a "work of visual art, literature, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates."
|Mr. Wodehouse and cigar|
Back to my own Holmes pastiches/parodies. I refer to this series of stories in my journal and my filing system as The Notebooks of Dr. John H. Watson. The conceit is simple enough. Recently unearthed notebooks have been found to contain first drafts of Watson's immortal Sherlock Holmes stories. (Yes, I know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually wrote the stories, but Doyle gave the credit to Watson, so I do too.) And while a given first draft bears a certain resemblance to the famous story of the same name (which I'll refer to as "the Strand version"), each is really quite different. Holmes is more of a blue-collar, working detective with blue-collar tastes (principally a taste for beer) in Watson's first drafts, and the cases he undertakes are a little more "down-market" as well. And the solutions are always different.
When I write one of these, I first reread the Strand version looking for a "back door," an alternative way into the story for purposes of reimagining its basic events. Sometimes the back door is an alternative solution, as it was for the two parodies Queen published this year. Sometimes it's a famous "problem" with the story, something about it that's bugged generations of Sherlockian scholars. An example might be the fabulous coronet that a distinguished personage (the Prince of Wales?) pawns in "The Beryl Coronet," a piece of public property that he has no right to pawn. Resolving that problem can suggest an entirely new take on the tale. Sometimes the back door is simply an ambivalent title, as in the case of "A Scandal in Bohemia." Since "Bohemia" can refer to both a geographical region (as it does in the Strand version) and a lifestyle, simply switching the meaning can suggest an entirely different course of events.
The fun for me is trying to make these read as though they might actually be first drafts by including items that Watson can adapt for his final versions, like the plumber's smoke rocket that creates havoc in my "Scandal in Bohemia" and clearly inspires the smoke rocket device that works so well in Watson's "Scandal." I also enjoy putting in allusions that I hope Sherlockians will spot and enjoy. My source for these is often Leslie S. Klinger's wonderful The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. In his notes for the "The Red-headed League," for example, he tells us that Holmes and Watson's trip on the underground in that story is the only one mentioned in the entire canon. I explain that in passing (claustrophobia).
Speaking of allusions, I also use a few turns of phrase familiar to lovers of the works of the aforementioned Mr. Wodehouse, like Holmes "getting outside of three pints of bitter (beer) in record time." These stories are meant to be funny, so I strive for a Wodehousian tone throughout. I don't think P.G. would mind, and I like to think Sir Arthur wouldn't either. Because my parodies, defined in Faherty's Collegiate Dictionary as a time-honored subset of pastiche, are nothing if not affectionate.