When Nicholas Fogg, an unsuccessful private investigator, dies on the job, he learns that the afterlife is not what he expected. Disappointed—but not too surprised—to find himself in the very dead town of Garden Rest, he befriends the famous Arthur Conan Doyle to crack a case from beyond the grave and solve the ultimate riddle: Is it possible to be murdered if you are already dead?
John Shirley is the author of numerous books and many, many short stories. His novels include Bleak History, Crawlers, Demons, In Darkness Waiting, and seminal cyberpunk works City Come A-Walkin', and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. His collections include the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild award-winning Black Butterflies, Living Shadows: Stories: New & Pre-owned, and In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley. He also writes for screen (The Crow) and television. As a musicianShirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others.
1. What books are you reading now and tell us a little about it
I’m reading HERO, the Korda biography of T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia.) Fascinating stuff, readable and thorough, playing into my anglophilia as it’s about a famous British officer in (and around) World War One—a most peculiar character, and a writer himself, as well as a spy and soldier. I read biographies to get a grasp of what real people are like, along with, of course, observing other people in life...I recently read a biography of Bat Masterson...I tend to re-read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels about the Royal Navy. I read some crime fiction too, read a James Lee Burke novel not so long ago...
2. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Basically to let the writing flow, don’t be too judgmental during initial composition, then go back and rewrite the hell out of it. Also be observant in life—open your eyes, look around. Look for secrets...they can be seen if you look closely.
3. What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing Doyle After Death life?
I read two biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle and a book of his letters and re-read many of his books. And also watched the only video of him speaking that I’m aware of. I also read about Spiritualism, the loosely organized theological ideas he embraced based on preparation for the afterlife, read his essays on it, and so forth. He was a man of contradictions, with the rationalist Sherlock Holmes as one part of his personality and the “I want to believe” spiritualist in another part. I had to try to reconcile that. The challenge was in getting his voice right—I think I did it fairly well. But the story is told from the point of view of his “Watson”—Nicholas Fogg, an American detective, lately dead, from Las Vegas. So I had to have that very American voice as the narrator and keep the British feel of Doyle distinct. I also had to develop Fogg as a character, and work that into the novel. Weaving that into a novel set almost entirely (but for some flashbacks) in the afterlife was challenging...
4. Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Of course. Especially some of my early works. But when there’s a chance of getting them back into print, I do what Edgar Allan Poe did—I rewrite them from page one!
5. What were you like in school?
5. What were you like in school?
I was a handful, I’m afraid. I was your classic rebel. I had my academic side but it was a rebellious time and I identified with that. I was right and wrong at once--like every young person.