The Man from A.S.S.

As I mentioned here last month, I don't have much faith in myself as a salesman. You know the old line about the guy who could sell ice to the indigenous peoples of Alaska? Well, I don't think I could sell parkas and snow mobiles to the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

Of course, that's not quite how the old line went. But apparently "He could sell ice to Eskimos" is potentially offensive if used too loosely. I read up on it on Wikipedia and, frankly, I'm still kind of confused about when it's appropriate. I think this would be acceptable, for instance: "He could sell ice to Eskimos -- by which I mean members of either the Inupiat or Yupik communities of the northern circumpolar region but not individuals associated with the Northern Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group." But that could be wrong. Can we really trust analysis from a website that refuses to acknowledge the existence of energy vampires and Biggus Dickus?

The Man from ASSBottom line: I couldn't sell cold weather stuff to people who live where the weather's usually cold. (There goes any chance of a gig with Alaska Snowmobile Salvage. Which is a shame, since it seems like a fun place to work. Just look at how they've embraced that acronym!) But even if I couldn't convince a window-shopping Alaska Native to take a 2013 Arctic Cat out for a spin -- only 10,000 miles on the snowdometer! -- I could, at least, treat her with respect. By not assuming she's O.K. with the label "Eskimo," for instance.

Convincing people to buy crap isn't my bag. Trying to be nice I can handle.

Which is why, I think, the new "Holmes on the Range" book, The Double-A Western Detective Agency, has done very, very well in one regard. I've sold 300 copies in the month since it came out, which isn't bad considering my marketing plan could be boiled down to this: (1) Announce that the book exists and can be purchased online. 

There is no (2).

But here's how The Double-A Western Detective Agency has been a spectacular success: As of the morning of Monday, Jan. 14, it has 25 reviews on Amazon, all of them with five-star ratings. That means nearly 10% of the people who've bought the book took the time to write a review after they read it. That's a spectacular ratio. It's neat for Dan Brown that The Da Vinci Code has 4,956 reviews on Amazon, sure, but that thing's sold 80 million copies. If 10% of the people who read it suddenly tried to review it on Amazon, it'd break the Internet.

So how was I able to beat Dan Brown (in one small, narrowly defined way)? It wasn't my marketing savvy. See above: I ain't got none. But I'm guessing most of those 25 five-star reviews came from people who've read my blog posts and email newsletters and tweets and feel a personal connection to me. Maybe they've even communicated with me directly via email or Facebook or Twitter. (I try really, really hard to respond to every message and friend request I get.) They're happy when I put a new book and assume that giving me the Amazon equivalent of a pat on the back -- by buying and reviewing it -- encourages me to finish the next one. And they're 100% correct.

Do I have a million bajillion readers, like Dan Brown? Nope. Do I have fantastic, wonderful, lovely, supportive readers? Yes indeedy. 

There's a chance I'll finally add a (2) to my Double-A Western Detective Agency marketing plan in a few months. I have to see how certain factors (rights reversions, development deals, book pitches) play out. If I do decide to give the book more of a push, all those five-star reviews are going to make it a lot easier to gain some traction. 

So to everyone who's left a review: Thank you!

To everyone who read the book and hated it and didn't leave a review: Thank you, too! (And sorry. I hope you like the next one better.)

To everyone who read the book and loved it but also didn't leave a review: Thank you, as well. (Hey, I'm not gonna go all hard-sell on leaving reviews now that I've firmly established how chill I am about marketing.)

And to everyone who hasn't bought the book yet: It exists and is available for purchase. Do with that what you will....

The New "Holmes on the Range" Novel Is Here!

There are a lot of reasons I'm not particularly good at marketing. One is a tendency to be too clever by half with my blogging and social media, dancing around any sales pitch with a lot of self-absorbed blather. Like right now, for instance. Here I am writing about my weakness as a marketer when there's marketing to be done.


The Double-A Western Detective Agency is available here as an ebook and here as a paperback. It looks like there's going to be an audiobook, too, but that'll take a while. I'd get into the reasons for the delay, but that would steer me away from the point. Which is this:


Hurry hurry hurry step right upOf course, all this crass, carnival barker, hard-sell self-promotion makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am, after all, a sensitive artist. I'd much rather be using this space for soul-searching explorations of creativity and connection in today's dizzyingly capricious world. You know -- "self-absorbed blather"? But let's face it. You know where this is heading. The gag's been established, and you can see those big, bolded words waiting for you in the next paragraph. So I might as well drop the pretense. Let's say it together, shall we?


Coming Soon to a Pair of Hands Attached to You

This is the part of putting out a book that drives me crazy. Well, aside from brainstorming the plot and outlining all the chapters. That's not easy. And the actual writing -- that can make me a little cuckoo sometimes. And revising and moving things around and trying to remember what the hell I was thinking when I wrote a scene a certain way seven months ago...that really makes my brain hurt.

Like sands through the hourglassBut all of that is a walk in the park -- on a sunny day, yet, with free hot dogs and sodas from all the pushcart guys -- compared to waiting.

You see, the new "Holmes on the Range" novel, The Double-A Western Detective Agency, is done. Ready. Set to go. But the files still need a few minuscule tweaks. How minuscule is "minuscule"? There's a tab missing in the ebook file, and the title on the spine of the paperback needs to be shrunk by one-sixteenth of an inch.

I'm not kidding. That's it. They're tiny changes -- literally -- and I won't have to wait long for them, but you know what comes after that? All the files get uploaded to Amazon, which runs them through its own approval process -- something that takes between 16 and 72 hours. And even if the files get the O.K. (which isn't guaranteed -- Amazon can be persnickety) there's yet another wait waiting for me: It can take days for the book in question to actually appear on the site.

"But, Steve," I hear you say, "you've been working on this book for almost two years. What possible difference could a few more days make?"

My reply: I WANT TO BE DONE!!!!!!!!!

"Dude," I now hear you say (as you run away), "switch to freakin' decaf."

My reply: Sorry.

I was going to get all fancy when the book was finally finished and approved and loaded up to go on sale. There was going to be one last waiting period for pre-orders and extra pre-release hype and such. But you know what? Screw that. As soon as the book can be available it will be available. There will be only one final sorta-kinda delay: On the long-awaited day when the book is on sale, the folks on my e-newsletter list will be the first to know. I'll also throw some sort of giveaway at 'em. So, you know...hint hint. If you want in on that, you know what to do.

And fair enough if you don't want in on that. I joined the AARP recently, and let me tell you: You do not want to give those crafty old bastards your email address. Geez Louise, the spam I get now. Apparently, 21st century senior citizens are suckers for (1) dodgy investment schemes, (2) overpriced windows and (3) B.S. "health supplements" (especially -- sign of the times -- hemp oil), because I get approximately 300 messages about them every day. So yeah -- if you want one less promotional email in your life, I get it. Just keep checking this site (or my Facebook and Twitter feeds) over the next, say, 10 days, and eventually you'll see that The Double-A Western Detective Agency can finally be bought and read and (hopefully) enjoyed.

The wait is almost over. 

Just don't ask me how long it'll be before the next book is done....

The Year(s) of Writing Dangerously

In January of 2017, I began working on a new novel. I didn't have the plot worked out yet, but this much I already knew: It would continue my "Holmes on the Range" series and it would be about 50,000 words long -- too short for a traditional publisher but just right for a book I planned to put out myself -- and it would be done by the fall and on sale by December.

And I was right! Kind of. It will be on sale in December. This December. Next month. (Exact pub date coming soon.) The book took an extra year to finish.

Quoth the raven: What the hell happened, Hockensmith? Let me count the ways.

Are you ready to rockExcuse #1: The book was hard to write. Why? Because -- pay attention, now -- books are hard to write. As with every novel I do, I lost faith in this one about a third of the way in. (Sometimes I make it half-way in before I decide it's crap. I never get beyond that.) So, as always, I had to stop and go back to the beginning and work my way through the manuscript and fix the things that weren't working. Which wasn't a lot, actually. News flash: I was wrong! The book is really good! Breaking news update: I'm always wrong! The books are always fine! (Especially after some tweaking...which I can't resist doing before the first draft is actually finished, for some reason.)

Excuse #2: I got back the rights to four of the original "Holmes on the Range" novels and stopped writing so I could go through them again and put them back out myself. The upside: I discovered to my relief that (see above) they're all actually quite good (hurrah!) while re-immersing myself in the series. The downside: It took months.

Excuse #3: I was asked to write some short stories. I turned down the first opportunity because I was being a good doobie and focusing on the novel. But by the time the other requests came in I was distracted anyway, so I figured I may as well be a bad doobie. And since I was already taking a break to write short stories by request, I threw in a few more just for the hell of it. Two of them -- one for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, one for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine -- also come out next month. And I'm thrilled, of course! But it did make me even more late, late for a very important (pub) date.

Excuse #4: The longer I worked on the book, the longer it became. Which might get a big "Well, duh" from you, but I don't just mean that I added words. I added twists and turns and chapters, too. And, yes, lots of words. So that lean, mean 50,000-word book I wanted to write? Now it's a not-quite-so-lean and really-rather-nice 75,000-word book. Just like my usual inescapable crisis of confidence, this expansion always happens: I haven't finished a story or novel yet that was shorter than I thought it would be. Even this blog post is longer than I anticipated. I sat down to type "The new book comes out next month!" and just look where it's gone from there. And geez -- I still have one more paragraph to go! Because there's one more reason this book took a while, and it's probably the most important of all.

Excuse #5: No one was waiting for it. O.K., maybe you were. And...oh, somewhere between 500 and 5,000 other people. (I'll find out the exact number soon.) But no one with a contract was waiting for it. No editor, no publisher. Which meant no due date. It would be done when it was done. That was a lovely change of pace from the hurry-hurry-hurry I was used to with deadlines. Then again, the hurry-hurry-hurry meant I couldn't dawdle-dawdle-dawdle, and this time I feel like I did. But on the other hand, so what? What does it matter if it took me two years to finish a book that, once upon a time, I could've done in 10 months? (Even when I'm hurry-hurry-hurrying, I'm not exactly fast.) I'm asking that of myself because the end of one project means the beginning of another. How do I want it to go? What do I want it to be? What am I trying to achieve? What should I have for lunch? There's a lot to figure out. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," the old saying goes. And Lord knows writing a book can feel like a journey of a thousand -- hell, a million -- miles. So what's my first step going to be this time?

I think I know.

Double Double coronary

The Good Place

TMI Alert: This post will tell you more than you want to know. If you want to read something that gives you less information -- that will, in fact, leave your brain emptier than when you started it -- I suggest Break the Simulation, Kanye West's upcoming book of philosophical musings. Which is a real thing and not a joke and leads me to a philosophical musing of my own. Namely:

Anywho, upward (or downward or maybe just sideways) and onward to the TMI....

My wife and I call our relationship style "hearts and farts" because we love each other and there's nothing either of us holds back from the other. There is one thing I try not to do in my gassy beloved's presence, though: watch old movies. I love 'em, she doesn't, simple as that. So while she's in the living room catching up on downbeat TV dramas like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones -- you know, being a normal American adult -- I'll be upstairs in bed watching Gene Kelly learn how to roll his Rs for the 50th time. 

Not everything I watch is a certifiable classic. Some of it is certifiable crap. Or at least certifiably mediocre. But there are only so many classics, you know, and you've got to watch something once you've worked your way through the AFI Top 100 List. Hence some of my recent viewing choices.

Chip off the old green blockThe Omega Man. (Hey, I'd never seen it before!) Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. (Hey, I hadn't seen them in a long time!) Son of Godzilla. (Hey, I...O.K., there's no excuse.) And lots of middle-of-the-road Westerns like The Tin Star and Chisum and Tribute to a Bad Man.

It was that last flick -- a meh Robert Wise-directed Jimmy Cagney vehicle -- that my wife caught me watching the other day when she'd completed her daily dose of modern tele-nihilism. The film was staggering to its extremely wobbly conclusion, so she wasn't even catching it at its best (which wasn't very good anyway). And she asked me a question I sometimes ask myself but don't like to hear from anyone else.

Why do you watch this stuff?

It's a good question. Why would I rather see a kinda lame movie from 1956 than an Oscar winner from 2018? Because most of the time I would. 

It's not just nostalgia. I wasn't alive in 1956, and I don't watch movies from back then through rose-colored glasses. If they suck, I can see it. (Just the other night I gave up on a 1959 Robert Taylor Western called The Hangman after 20 minutes. And it was directed by freakin' Michael "Adventures of Robin Hood/Casablanca" Curtiz! But, man, was it dullsville, as the beatniks of the time might have said.) 

I also don't romanticize yesteryear (as I blah-blah-blahed about a couple months ago). Yet I'd still prefer to hang out in the past than fully partake of the present. Today is so full of fear and disappointment and cruelty and stupidity. Yesterday was, too, yeah...but at least we got through it.

So maybe the past is my safe place. Somewhere I can go that -- though far from perfect -- feels settled, resolved, contained. Unlike now, which feels messy and infuriating and deeply, deeply frightening. I can see how 1956 turned out, more or less. 2018...who the hell knows?

That's all grossly oversimplified, by the way. Escaping from troubled times isn't the only reason I love old movies. I really do prefer the classical style of, say, a top-of-his-game Orson Welles or Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks to 99% of what's being made today. And it's not like I can't appreciate high-quality contemporary stuff when it comes along. In recent months I've seen The Death of Stalin, Deadpool 2, Annihilation, Isle of DogsThe Post, Ladybird, American Made, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Battle of the Sexes, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk and Baby Driver and dug them all.  

And there's one current TV show I'm keeping up with, too. I like it because it's unique and clever and funny and features deeply flawed characters you can still like and root for. It's called The Good Place, which strikes me as a remarkably apt title. Spoiler/TMI alert: It's named for a place -- and a state of being -- the characters are trying to get to. 

I can relate.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love to Bomb

I'm not feeling groovy these days. Not that I ever felt super-groovy in the past. But there used to be times when I didn't feel like an extra in Rollerball every time I glanced at the headlines. I suppose living in an actual, honest-to-god dystopia should be pretty interesting from a sociological/historical point of view, but groovy it is not. I keep waiting for Charlton Heston to stagger up in a loincloth and damn me for blowing it all to hell. Or maybe scream, "In-N-Out burgers are people! People!"

GroovyNote to film school students looking for a thesis topic: Why is it the 1960s and '70s gave us so many memorable flicks that faced what felt like imminent societal collapse and the 2010s give us The Happytime Murders and The freakin' Meg?

Side note for comedy connoisseurs: I had no idea that The Happytime Murders had already come out until a moment ago, when I noticed its 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When I clicked through to the film's page, the verdict from critic Oliver Jones of the New York Observer caught my eye: "Fatally confuses crassness with subversion." And there we have it -- a diagnosis for half the bad comedy of the last 30 years.

Side-side note for anyone just trying to get to the point of this blog post: We're almost there.

Despite feeling like the Omega Man, I've taken "The 59th Street Bridge Song" to heart. I've slowed down. I was moving too fast. (Or I was trying to, anyway.) No, I'm not trying to make the morning last. (I wish I could skip it entirely, actually.) Nor am I kicking down any cobblestones. But I am looking for fun even if I'm not feelin' da doo do do do-do-do. Feelin' groovy.

That groovy doo-doo-ing dude in the song -- he's got no deeds to do, no promises to keep. And that's what he and I have in least when it comes to my writing. (Believe me, on a typical day I have many deeds to do and promises to keep. What do I look like -- a dirty hippie?)

A couple years ago, I burned out on contracts and deadlines and branding and sales. I'd spent the previous decade fretting about my writing career, and what did it get me? A lot of books on the shelf, not enough money in the bank and way too many worries on my plate. So I turned my back on it all. I was just going to do the one thing I really felt like doing -- write a new "Holmes on the Range" novel -- and not let the rest of it drag me down anymore.

"Don't worry," I told myself. "Be happy."

Crap! We've segued into a different song. Oh, well. It fits. Or it would if not for current events. You know...the End Times?

For years I dreamed of writing fiction full time. Then for years I did it -- and it made me kind of miserable. I worried about advances. I worried about sales. I worried about reviews. I worried about being liked. I worried about being respected. I worried about my destiny as a writer. Dear god, I thought I had a destiny as a writer!

The wrong weekWorry worry worry. And Bobby McFerrin was right. When I stopped worrying -- by walking away for a while -- I got more happy. Unfortunately, now I'm worried about my country and democracy and the entire goddamned planet. Which makes me wonder if this is a "picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue"-type scenario. Like, did I just happen to get my shit together at the exact moment the world swirled down the crapper, or is my brain so used to worrying it had to find something else to brood about if it wasn't going to be writing?

As the wise man once said, "The world may never know." Because it'll blow up before I figure it out.

In the meantime, here's my booby prize: I've really enjoyed the last two years of writing. I started out to do that new "Holmes on the Range" book and got bogged down and took breaks to do short stories and kicked around other ideas and blogged and generally did what I wanted. Very, very slowly, perhaps, but hey. I'd rather putter along having fun than be a red-hot dynamo burning itself out to pay the bills.

The "Holmes on the Range" book is almost done, by the way. I wanted to be working on the second draft by now, but I got a couple requests for other things, so I won't get back to it for a couple weeks. It was supposed to be out by the end of 2017, then by the end of 2018, and now I'm not entirely sure when it'll be ready. Soon-ish?

If you're a fan of the series and you're worried about it, please don't be. I'm not.

Old Yeller

I turned 50 years old today. That entitles me to certain privileges. I can join AARP, for instance. I can update strangers on the state of my lumbago. (Not that I have lumbago. But I can still talk to strangers about it if I so choose.) I can start putting "the" in front of nouns that don't need it. ("Did you hear about Ethel? Turns out she's got the diabetes.") I can believably reference friends named "Ethel." And I can rant at anyone younger than me on how things were done in "the good old days." Ahhh, I can hear it now....

OldYou young whippersnappers with your Tweeter and your Facialbook and your Snappychatter! Back in the day when we wanted to talk to somebody we did it the proper way: We marched over to their house, rang their ding-danged doorbell and yelled at 'em! And this music you listen to. Beyondsy and Lady Goo-Goo and the rap. It's just noise! When I was a boy we had songs with melodies and harmonies and lyrics that meant something. You know -- "Party All the Time"! "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go"! "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"! Real music! And the movies today. Don't get me started. It's all superheroes and special effects and things blowing up. Where did the stories go? The charm? The magic? Like in Megaforce and Howard the Duck and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? Bah! It makes me so mad my lumbago flares up!

But no. A few days ago, I wrote a post over on the SleuthSayers blog about how much I dislike the modern world and try to escape it both as a writer and reader. Here's the thing, though. That escape? It's to somewhere else -- somewhere I can go to give my brain a break from the discouraging, infuriating, heartbreaking news I see every day. Yet I don't pretend that the past I'm fleeing to was perfect. Taken as a whole, it wasn't any better than today at all, except that it wasn't quite so many ticks along on the ol' Doomsday Clock.

Honestly Abe - get a new hatHere's something else I'm permitted to do as an official oldster: trot out a credential. I have a history degree. Yes, it was granted in that ancient year nineteen hundred and ninety. But I don't think the field's changed that much since then. It's not like we've discovered Atlantis or Noah's ark or conclusive evidence that Abraham Lincoln was an alien lizard. (Hmm...though that would explain the guy's big, dopey hat. He couldn't comb his head frills down.) 

History's still history, more or less. And here's one of the things that hasn't changed about it: change. As in, it's always happening. It's inevitable, inexorable, inescapable, and resistance is futile. There is no golden era we should be striving to return to, and even if there were recreating it would be impossible. Because: change. 

Take me, for instance. There's no glory that was Greece, grandeur that was Rome in my past. Which is a fancy literary way of saying I've always been a bit of a clumsy dumbass or a bit of a space cadet or a bit neurotic or a bit lazy or a bit something. I was never, not for a single second, perfect. So I don't pine for my lost youth. I'm smarter than I was at 20, happier than I was at 30, healthier than I was at 40.

Sure, it's gonna suck when my knees go or I find out I really do have the lumbago or the diabetes or the cancer or the whatever. And it's gonna happen, sooner now than later. I have my own personal Doomsday Clock, as do we all, and...well...tick tick tick, you know?

But in the meantime, no midlife crisis for me, thank you very much. Once upon a time, men of a certain age (mine) were permitted such things. They'd buy sports cars or chase young secretaries around their desks. (God -- remember when that was considered funny?) It was almost expected of them. Boys will be boys. Men will be men.

Nowadays, boys and men are expected to be different. Better. Which is change. Which is good.

SuperjerkOf course, not all change is good. Superman shouldn't be a murderous asshole, for instance. The same goes for Batman. A movie theater Coke shouldn't cost six freakin' bucks. Trader Joe's used to have this stuff called "Global Village Nut Mix" that was spectacular, but they stopped stocking it in, like, 2004. And when I was younger, I used to think that the only people I truly hated were Nazis...and that was sort of like hating mastodons, because there weren't any around anymore. (Man, talk about "the good old days.")

Bottom line: I'm definitely older and arguably wiser, and although I'm not totally down with now I don't worship or long for then. Yesterday is gone, and it was flawed anyway. Tomorrow will be flawed in new and exciting and depressing ways.

Today I get cake.

News Talk

I've got good news and bad news.

The good news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel is done!

The bad news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel isn't done.

To explain that, I've got bad news and good news.

The bad news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel isn't good enough.

The good news: The new "Holmes on the Range" novel is almost good enough -- and will be good enough (and hopefully better than just "good enough") soon!

The getaway vehicleTo explain that, I've got more news. I don't know if it's good or bad. It's sort of like when you read about people stealing a shark from an aquarium touch pool using a baby stroller. I mean, that's not good news. Not for the shark. I'm sure he was all like, "Oh, come on! It's bad enough they stick me in this little tank so 4-year-olds can yank my tail with their grubby Capri-Sun-coated fingers. Now these idiots are gonna wheel me out in a freakin' baby carriage? I'm a damn shark! Grrrrrr! Show some respect! Haven't you seen the trailers for Meg? We're bad asses!" On the other hand, the thieves were caught and the shark rescued, so there's a happy ending. Bad news doesn't have a happy ending...unless it's reported under the headline "[INSERT NAME OF POLITICIAN YOU DON'T LIKE] Enters San Quentin to Begin 50-Year Sentence," am I right or am I right? 

Anyway, the sort-of-neutral news: My beta readers (not to be confused with betta readers) have the first draft of the new novel, and I've already gotten some extremely helpful feedback. 

"Extremely helpful feedback," by the way, translates from writerspeak as "I've been told that the stuff I suspected was weak was weak, and it's easily fixed." "Extremely unhelpful feedback" would have been more like "I've been told that the stuff I love was weak, and it's going to take months to fix if I decide to change it." Or simply "I've been told that the book sucks."

So I guess this is actually good news. So far. Not everyone's reported in. I could still have a "This book sucks" coming my way. But even if I do, there'll be good news to go with the bad news.

The good news (eventually): I will finish the damn book...

The bad news (possibly): ...even if the rewrites kill me.

Holmes Renovation

When I tell someone I’ve just met that I wrote a novel about crime-solving cowboys called Holmes on the Range -- and this always seems to come up within the first minute of conversation, for some reason -- I inevitably get one of two responses.

Response #1: “Oh, that sounds cute!”

Response #2: “Oh. That sounds cute.”

Response #1 is coupled with a look of amused interest.

Response #2 is coupled with a look of mild dyspepsia and a glance past my shoulder. (The words that follow are usually some variation on “Excuse me. I think I should go stand over there now.”)

I hope for Response #1. But I understand Response #2. The Sherlock Holmes spinoff has a long and checkered history. And I’ll admit it: Holmes on the Range is a pretty wretched pun. But come on! You write a novel about cowboys reading Holmes stories and trying to become detectives and let’s see what you call it. Really -- what you got, hotshot? Huh? Huh? Can’t think of anything, can you? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

O.K., maybe I do get a little defensive about Response #2. But back to my point: There have been Holmes spinoffs way crazier than mine. (Note: I call them spinoffs because many of them, like Holmes on the Range, aren’t true pastiches. I wasn’t trying to write like Arthur Conan Doyle and I’m pretty sure the guy who wrote Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants of Death wasn’t either. And, yes: That's the title of a real book. So again, people -- do not give me grief about freakin’ Holmes on the freakin’ Range!)

Holmes has fought Martians. Holmes has fought zombies. Holmes has fought dinosaurs. Holmes has fought Nazis. Holmes has fought icky Lovecraftian yuck-gods. Holmes has fought the fiendish Fu Manchu. Holmes has fought Dracula...a lot! Like, maybe not as often as he’s fought Jack the Ripper -- would those two just get a room already? -- but at least half a dozen novels have chronicled the master sleuth’s battles with the count.

There’s a book in which Holmes and Watson borrow a time machine from H.G. Wells so they can travel to ancient Jerusalem and determine whether or not Jesus was really the son of God. (Spoiler alert: He is.) Another book is comprised entirely of Holmes and Watson debating the merits of the Warren Report.  

BatholmesIn the 1987 TV movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes, our hero is awakened from suspended animation and begins investigating crimes in modern-day Boston. In the 1993 TV movie Sherlock Holmes Returns, our hero is awakened from suspended animation and begins investigating crimes in modern-day San Francisco. Why there weren’t subsequent TV movies called Sherlock Holmes Has Returned (in which our hero investigates crimes in modern-day Chicago) and Sherlock Holmes Is Returning (in which our hero investigates crimes in modern-day Des Moines) I don’t know. But there was Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, in which...oh, god. Please don’t make me explain it. Heck, the guy has even palled around with Batman, which is something I wish I could say.

What’s up with all the returns? Why do writers keep reviving Holmes in forms both familiar and freaky?

Simple. Public domain, baby!

Well, that’s part of it anyway. Consider this, though: Long John Silver’s in the public domain, and we haven’t seen Long John Silver Returns in our TV Guides yet. All the poor guy got was a greasy fried fish joint. Someone makes a new Robin Hood film every decade or so, but it’s not like superfans called “the Merry Men” get together in Sherwood every year to debate whether or not he was real.

Yet Holmes still inspires stories and novels and movies and comics and games and art and decorative license plate frames. (Really. I found one online. $19.99 plus $2.99 for shipping and handling.) Obviously, he’s got something Robin and Long John don’t.

It could be that he's a product of the late Victorian era, a time we seem to love despite all the filth and racism and prostitute murders and child labor and such. (I love the Victorian era, and I'm not a fan of racism, prostitute murders and child labor at all. Filth I don't mind, as one glance around my office would tell you.) But if we just dug Holmes because he's Victorian, why would Sherlock and Elementary be so popular? (Aside: Around 2008 or so, I pitched an editor on the idea of a modern Sherlock Holmes revamp, with Afghan invasion vet Watson blogging about his kooky new crime-solving roommate. “Nah...Sherlock Holmes is overdone,” the editor said. “How about a modern Robin Hood?” Sigh. If anyone out there wants to do Robin Hood in the 21st Century, the idea’s still available.)

Whatever it is we love about Holmes, it's malleable. It's not tied to deerstalker caps or meerschaum pipes or hansom cabs or London fog. It's not even tied to Holmes himself, in a way: We've seen good-natured Holmeses and a-hole Holmeses and action hero Holmeses and daffy Holmeses and Holmeses who bear an uncanny resemblance to Max Headroom.

Gaslight Gothic 270But there are a few constants. Holmes is smart. Holmes is curious. Holmes is brave. And Holmes likes to have a Watson (though they vary, too) by his side. With those things in place, Holmes can go up against anything, anyone, anywhere, anywhen.

Including the weird and wonderful world of gothic horror. Congratulations, my dear reader -- you've reached the real point of this post! Not-at-all-weird (so far as I know) yet still wonderful editor/superfan Charles Prepolec has just produced a new anthology of creeptastic Sherlockia. It's called Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes, it includes contributions from such Sherlockian superstars as Lyndsay Faye, David Stuart Davies and James Lovegrove, and it's available for pre-order as of this week. I've ordered my copy. Because there's one more thing about Sherlock Holmes that never changes.

We'll always love the guy -- myself included.