Another arrival lands in Improbable Press' 221B Series!
A Study in Velvet and Leather is here and available for pre-order!
The book is a canon-era adventure and the second in our series of Sherlock Holmes 221B novellas, each book telling their tale two hundred and twenty-one words at a time.
A Study in Velvet and Leather
By K. Caine
Illustrated by Avid Branks
Sharing a flat with Sherlock Holmes should not have posed a problem for John Watson—after all, Watson is gay, Holmes is a woman, and the arrangement is financially convenient.
But when Holmes takes a complex case involving Irene Adler and a scandalous photograph, she turns to Watson for assistance.
The case leads them everywhere from the opera to a secret Victorian BDSM club, and Watson soon finds himself questioning his partnership with Holmes, his sexuality, and his understanding of himself.
A Study in Velvet and Leather, 135 pages; 6 illustrations
Spark talked to both writer K Caine and illustrator Avid Branks about A Study in Velvet and Leather.
* K, why did you want to tell this particular Sherlockian story?
I have, canonically, so many questions about Irene Adler. Where did she come from? How did Arthur Conan Doyle conceive of the relationship between Sherlock and Irene? What's the overall role of women in the canon Sherlock universe? When you're talking about women in Sherlock, Irene Adler is one of the first ones that come to mind, but there's so little information about her.
I was doing research on her in the early stages of thinking about writing this book, trying to find out what story I wanted to tell, and what kind of things I cared about, and I came across the canonic description of Irene Adler as a "well-known adventuress".
Later on, as I continued researching, I realized that the term was frequently used synonymously with "courtesan", and it really got me starting to think about what kind of roles ACD thought Irene was filling in the story—and then what kind of roles Irene herself would fill—and then, finally, what would happen to the dynamic between Irene and Sherlock if they were both women, and the story developed organically from there. It was important to me to write a story that tackled some of the questions about sexuality—what do we do when our sexuality is broad, and what do we do when our perception of it changes?
* K, what helped you get the story down on the page?
The thing that assisted me the most in getting the story on the page was thinking of it systematically. I started with 100 index cards, and a copy of the canon, and I started sorting through to pick out the kinds of things I wanted to portray. What sorts of things about Sherlock's life would shift most if she were a woman? What wouldn't change much at all? What scenes did I know I wanted to be in there? Once I had a handful of scenes down, I started rearranging the cards to get them into a particular order–Avid can speak to that, she got to see me in the midst of my index card piles with a stack of highlighters, pointing at things Charlie Day style.
After that, it was just about sitting down and getting it done. I found that, for me, the "easiest" way to get a 221B completed was to write all the way to the B, and get the B to work—and then to edit up or down to make the wordcount happen. Once the B was in place, it was really just about arguing with the rest of the words until they fell in line. Nothing felt better in edits than a 300 word section or a 150 word section that ended with a "B"—and nothing felt worse than a 221 word section where the last word started with an "M".
* Avid, what was your most interesting challenge in creating art for the book?
I had a vision of creating manicules (the pointing hands) for section breaks, based on 19th century steel engravings. I wasn’t about to use a steel plate, because I knew the drawings would be small in the finished book, and it would be silly to go to that trouble.
So I tested a few techniques, linocut, ink, paint...and in the end, I used a drawing program on my iPad I was barely familiar with, so I could draw and redraw for precision. And there are no shortcuts, each one of those lines were carefully drawn and shaped to appear as if they were carved with an engraving tool. (Don’t ask how long I spent fussing over them.)
The result is something that looks like I just stole some clip art, but they’re very specific to the book—there’s an inside joke to them I don’t want to spoil here!
* A question for you both: Has fandom been important to you as a creator?
AVID: Fandom has resurrected me as an artist. I earned a couple of art degrees, then found a great job in the arts, but my own art took a distant back seat. Soon enough, I was out of practice, and the thought of making art again was discouraging because I was used to making Serious Art.
Enter fandom, which gave me a reason to make throwaway art. I didn’t have to worry about making something for a future exhibition...I could just post a drawing on an anonymous fandom account. It introduced me to people I wanted to make art for. I didn’t have to agonize over concepts, because there are brilliant writers churning out inspiration by the boatload. It’s fun to find ways to amplify another person’s work...to tease out parts of their writing for other people to appreciate.
K: Fandom has been absolutely fundamental to me as a creator. I've been writing and telling stories for a very long time, but I was spinning my wheels for most of it, and couldn't figure out how to focus. Fandom guided me and showed me the way, and it absolutely changed my life for the better.
You're next—write a 221B book for us!
We want Sherlock Holmes stories of adventure and romance, and we want alternative voices! The characters in these stories are humans of any gender, sexuality, colour, physical or mental ability, living in any decade or century—tell us their tale.
We have books already lined up, most by authors new to Improbable Press, and we want you to join them. Look at our 221B series writer's guidelines on the second half of our submissions page, then share your idea for a 221B book.
A Question of Time is coming soon in Improbable Press' 221B series of novellas. Written by Jamie Ashbird, illustrated with fifty drawings by Janet Anderton, A Question of Time is released January/February 2019.
Sherlock Holmes, whether a grimy student in 1980, a consulting detective in 47BCE, or a smitten neighbour in 1969, will always find his John Watson, whether he is a military doctor in 1917, an angry Saxon with an axe in 1086, or a priest in 1603.
A Question of Time is an illustrated journey through the ages told by our heroes, by their friends, and by a scorched manuscript.
We're excited to share A Question of Time and if you're excited to read it, subscribe to Spark and you'll learn about the book, its creators, and see the cover reveal here first—and maybe win yourself a copy. Speaking of which...
Here are the contest winners for a free ebook
We picked two people from all of Spark's subscribers—not just the new subscribers—and each has won an e-book of A Study in Velvet and Leather. Congratulations to the winners, who've been contacted by email:
Regularly-scheduled Spark continues next week with Fic and Finding Your Sexuality, where you talk about how fan fiction has helped you understand your own sexuality or the sexuality and experiences of another.