I first met author William Todd on a sort of writers’ forum on Facebook. He was seeking reviews for Sherlock Holmes: and the Mystery of the Broken Mirror . As a longtime fan of the sleuth, I was only too happy to oblige. Feel free to read my Turn the Page review.
Now if you’ll pardon me for just a moment while I once again beat this very dead horse. Book reviews are extremely important. I can’t stress that enough and it is especially true when it comes to independently publish authors like William Todd and yours truly. If you read a book and if you liked it, please take a few seconds to give a rating and make a brief comment or two. We’d be eternally grateful.
So bottom line, I was impressed enough with the new Sherlock Holmes adventure that I not only published a review but then offered to read and review Todd’s latest release, a military tale titled Uncommon Valor. That got me thinking. Why has this guy, who identifies himself mainly as an author of 19th century horror stories, penned a classic-style Holmes mystery and a story about the war in Iraq? I wanted to pursue that so asked if I could interview him for my blog and he graciously agreed.
William Todd has been writing for about a decade and a half and he was the second most popular author on storiesbyemail.com until the website folded about eight years ago. Todd’s first book, a collection of horror/supernatural stories called Bumps in the Night was picked up by Mystic Moon Press. The publisher promptly folded and he never received any royalties. Kinda seems like he’s bad luck; doesn’t it? I hope my site doesn’t crash after this interview goes live. Let’s see what else we can find out about Mr. Todd while we still have the chance.
Q: Why did you become a writer?
A: I think I was first drawn to writing in college. It started out with writing reports, term papers, etc. My professors said I had a knack for words and always made reading whatever assignment I was given more enjoyable. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I actually started reading novels, but I made up for lost time. I was in my mid-twenties when I took an online course in writing in the internet’s early years (mid 1990’s). I’ve been writing ever since.
Q: Why are the majority of your stories set during the late 1800’s?
A: One of the first stories I ever read was Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved the setting, the style of writing (which I try to emulate), and the characters of Holmes and Watson. I was hooked from that point on. Bram Stoker’s Dracula also added to the allure of how a Victorian story was written, as much as when it was written.
Q: What would you say is your greatest strength as an author and why?
A: This may sound weird but I think one of my strengths is my ability to live inside my head. What I mean is that I can picture an entire story, almost like a movie, in my head. I see it vividly, every character, every color, every emotion, every detail of setting. I then transfer what I’m seeing in my mind to the paper.
Q: What is your biggest weakness?
A: I will say that my biggest weakness is coming up with new material. I am very picky about what I write. I will not write for the sake of putting words on paper. If I don’t have something very specific to write about, I don’t write. That usually means that I can have droughts where I’m not writing anything.
Q: What or who inspires you?
A: My family inspires me. My son, at least in his creative writing ability, now in high school, is getting the same compliments from his teachers that I was getting in college. My hope is that he will be better at it than I am.
Q: What made you decide to write a new Sherlock Holmes story?
A: I had never intended to write a Sherlock Holmes story at all, let alone two. I am drawn more to traditional horror/supernatural tales, and that is the bulk of what I write, rarely leaving the late 1800’s in any of my stories. But I love Sherlock Holmes so much—and his character lived in my favorite era—that I felt a pull to write at least one Holmes and Watson mystery. I had never attempted a mystery before. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was received. It managed #70 on Amazon for mysteries and thrillers even though it was a short story. I got lots of friendly feedback on how to make the story a better mystery, so, not leaving well enough alone, I set out for another longer Holmes Mystery.
Q: What did you find the most challenging about writing fan fiction?
A: Capturing an authentic Conan Doyle voice for the Characters was tough. The only thing in my favor was that I was already writing in a Victorian voice in my horror stories. I’ve read every Holmes tale at least twice and some several times so it was a matter of just writing what and how I thought, based on what I’d already read, Holmes and Watson would say. I will also add this: my second story strays, just a bit, from the original voice of Conan Doyle. I’m not sure why, but as I wrote I felt more inclined with this story to give a more intimate tone between Holmes and Watson. They bicker more, are a bit more playfully sarcastic to each other. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law creeping into my mind’s eye as I wrote this one.
Q: When it comes to fan fiction, are there any guidelines/protocols/criteria you need to be especially aware of?
A: Yes, POV is critical. While not exclusive, Conan Doyle used first person (Watson) for most of his Holmes stories. If you are not very careful, you can unintentionally veer out of first person while writing and not even realize it. Also, do lots of research. Phrases of the day, terms used that aren’t used now, lots of maps of Victorian London. I write thinking that people are going to look this stuff up to see if what was said was true or if I was just lazy and made it up. I spent a week researching train routes in West England just to make sure I was correct in what I wrote.
Q: What books or authors have had the greatest impact on you as a writer?
A: Obviously Conan Doyle, but also, Dean R. Koontz. He is probably the author I have read the most over the years, with Conan Doyle a close second.
Q: What are some of your interests when you’re not reading or writing?
A: I love old movies. I used to love running until a fickle back decided it didn’t like it when I ran. The rest of the time, I work as a pathologist’s assistant and histology lab supervisor in a local hospital to keep my family fed and a roof over our heads. My work week is about 50 hours a week. With two teens, one with Down Syndrome, the rest of my time not writing is fully engulfed in helping my wife referee, taxi, and feed them.
Q: I have read your Sherlock Holmes as well as your military story. I have not yet had the opportunity to read any of your horror. What can you tell me about that?
A: As far as my horror/supernatural stories are concerned, I love anything that goes bump in the night. I try not to be a slasher horror writer. If the story warrants it, I will give detail but I try to let the reader use their imagination a bit. I am a religious person—I’m Catholic—so I am naturally drawn to Good V.s Evil, demons and devils, and wickedness and redemption. There is usually a moral hidden somewhere in just about every horror story I write. I rarely write a scary story just for the sake of being scared, but I do on occasion indulge my baser instincts.
Q: You obviously cover a lot of ground with your fiction. Is there a work you are especially proud of? If so, which one and why?
A: I think my favorite is my collection of short stories titled Dead of Night: Tales of the supernatural and the macabre. These stories really represent the entirety of my writing career so far. “Three–Bumps in the Night,” “Jack,” and “The Whitaker House Curse” are some of my first stories. “The Whitaker House Curse” is about a man who unwittingly makes a deal with the Devil. “Jack” is a romp through the streets of London with the famous serial killer with one of the best story twists ever, and “Bumps in the Night” is about a little girl with Down Syndrome who has a dad with a certain affliction that manifests itself every full moon. “I’m still Alive,” “The Thing in the Shadows,” and “It’s Only Johnny” are my newest works (minus the Sherlock Holmes I just finished). These stories deal with the consequence of a guilty conscience, an ancient family curse, and what all little kids fear in the middle of the night. Fall and Halloween are my favorite times of year and these stories are quintessential dark stormy night, leaves falling from the trees, ‘was that strange noise the wind’, cover up on the couch kind of reads. They are more along the lines of Dickens and Poe and Lovecraft Than Stephen King. Although I am beginning to spread my wings a bit with different genres, what I like to call ‘traditional horror’ will always be my favorite.
Q: You identify yourself primarily as a horror writer and most of your stories are set in the 19th century. “Uncommon Valor” is contemporary military fiction so you really broke that mold. What was the inspiration for something so far out of your normal comfort zone?
A: The impetus of the story came from an episode of NCIS. The main character, Gibbs, investigates the death of a Navy Admiral. At the end of the sad episode, Gibbs says to the widow, “Fair winds and following seas, ma’am.” My entire story revolved around that one little phrase and “Uncommon Valor” was the result.
Q: Do any of the characters in “Uncommon Valor” have a special and/or personal significance?
A: I think I put a little bit of myself into Corporal Davis. Some of the things he went through growing up I went through myself. Even my joining the National Guard, like Davis joining the Marines, was on a whim. I never gave it the deliberation I probably should have, and before I had time to back out, I had signed all the paperwork and it was too late. Eleven years later….
Q: What literary genre do you think would be the most difficult in which to write and why?
A: I think the hardest genre to write would be science fiction. I have a lot of respect for science fiction writers, but I just don’t think my brain is wired for that. I think I would have a hard time getting the right combination mixing a science (real or made up) with a story line. I’d either focus too much on the story and forget the science aspect or focus so much on the science the story would be terrible. Either way, I don’t see any space odysseys in my future.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.