– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘A Knife in the Fog’ blogtour, organised by paste creative.
About the Author :
Bradley Harper is a retired US Army Pathologist with over 37 years of worldwide military/medical experience, ultimately serving as a Colonel/Physician in the Pentagon. During his Army career, Harper performed some 200 autopsies, 20 of which were forensic.
Upon retiring from the Army, Harper earned an Associate’s Degree in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He has been published in The Strand Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and a short story he wrote involving Professor Moriarty in the Holmes tale of The Red Headed League (entitled The Red Herring League) won Honorable Mention in an international short fiction contest. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Authors Guild, and Sisters in Crime, Harper is a regular contributor to the Sisters in Crime bi-monthly newsletter.
Harper’s first novel, A Knife in the Fog, involves a young Arthur Conan Doyle joining in the hunt for Jack the Ripper, and was a finalist for the 2019 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for Best First Novel by an American Author.
Queen’s Gambit, the upcoming sequel to A Knife in the Fog will be released in September 2019.
September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.
Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell–Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes–agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.
Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I sorta fell into it. I retired from the Army after almost four decades of active duty and after I took my uniform off for the final time I vowed that I was never working another day in my life. I “play” as a Santa Claus at a local park two months out of the year, but that still leaves me ten months. We cruised a lot the first fifteen months after I got out, but I decided I didn’t want to spend the majority of my remaining years in a buffet line on a cruise ship, even if my waistline says I do! (see above, Santa Claus.)
I got a book for Christmas from my younger daughter by the author Mary Roach about the Space program called “Packing for Mars.” I wrote the author to tell her how much I’d enjoyed it and mentioned I was a retired Army pathologist so I found the medical aspects particularly interesting. She wrote back, asking me for ideas for her next book! I began a journey with her that led to her next book, called Grunt, about human research within the Dept of Defense.
After seeing how she gathered research that resulted in a book, I decided I could do it, too. How hard could it be? Five years later my book came out, so well, not as easy as I’d first thought.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I was a voracious reader growing up and one summer I selected a volume of the complete canon of Sherlock Holmes as I figured it would take me more than one day to read it. It took me almost two weeks, and I cried when I’d read the last one as there were no more. Writing my first book I tried to create something that thirteen-year-old me would have enjoyed.
I also read science fiction voraciously. Asimov was my favorite, but also loved Urusla LeGuin, Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury. I read the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy when I was fifteen, and re-read it every decade. A Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said that a man can never cross a river twice, for the next time both he and the river will have changed. As I go through life I find that different aspects of the saga speak the loudest to me. When I was young I skipped over the songs. Now I linger there, and read them out loud.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Ray Bradbury. I read his memoir about working with John Huston on his struggle to write the screenplay for Moby Dick (Green Island, White Whale). That book gave me insight into his creative process I try to emulate as best I can. His imagination, his sense of wonder and playfulness, ensured that whatever he created would delight.
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
Don Quixote de la Mancha. At one time I was studying to be a Spanish teacher and have tried to read the work in the original Spanish, but it is as archaic as Shakespeare’s English is to us today. I struggle, even with a simplified version with footnotes, but the old knight is a wonderful contrast of a noble fool. I guess I identify with him at times.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
Coffee or something to sip as I ponder helps. No snacks! I’d inhale them and never notice. I also like music, but prefer instrumental. The words in lyrics pull me out of my trance. Jazz, Classical, Celtic or New Age, all work. When I’m really in a tough place I go to a YouTube video of an icebreaker stuck in the ice, it’s just ten hours of wind blowing, a low rumble of the diesel engine, and creaking ice. I have tinnitus from my military service (for ten months I slept next to a generator while commanding a field hospital in Bosnia), so silence is never “silent” to me.
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
No worries! I like to take an actual event and tweak it. I try to stay as close to the actual events and historical personae as possible so that the reader says “it could have happened this way.” Real life is so interesting! In my debut novel I wrote a scene with Professor Bell analyzing a note signed Jack the Ripper. A year later I discovered he’d actually done that. It gave me shivers to ponder where my fiction and reality had overlapped.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
I’m a plotter of sorts. A novel is a journey, and I need to know the destination to keep me from wandering off the path to my desired conclusion. So, I begin with the ending in mind. I also need to know what lesson or insight my protagonist will gain from the story, which helps me write dialog.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
I volunteer as a manuscript reader for various societies I belong to, and I can tell you the first two pages are critical. A professional can know in two pages if the author has a story to tell, and knows how to tell it. Get me into the scene as quickly and vividly as you can. Studies show that the average person under thirty, those who never knew the world without the internet, have an attention span on average of eight seconds. A goldfish has nine. We who craft stories are bidding for slices of the readers’ life we call time. They have an infinite variety of diversions that can entertain, educate, or both, that didn’t exist during the life of Dickens or Melville. We have to grab their attention right away and not let go!
A manuscript I just critiqued (first ten pages) was full of flashbacks as the protagonist is on his way to a fort to get supplies to begin the Oregon Trail. My advice to him was to skip the whole ten pages and start on the Trail where the main character has to face a danger or obstacle. Homer knew this. He doesn’t begin the Odyssey at the end of the Trojan War, describing how his hero prepares for his return home. The war is done, and Ulysses is already in trouble.
What are your future plans as an author?
I’m plotting two novels, one contemporary, using a half-Cherokee Baltimore plainclothes detective I featured in a story I sold to The Strand Magazine (I’m part Cherokee myself and spoke it before English), and one historical with my characters from my debut novel, involving the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907 from Dublin Castle (the jewels were never recovered nor the thieves caught). I’m also working on turning a short story of mine into a children’s book about the things that frighten children in the dark and how one boy overcomes his fear. That one I’m calling Shadow Man. I’m 67 as I write this. I’m going to make the most of the time I have left to leave a legacy.
Last, but not least: Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
In this excerpt Arthur Conan Doyle is chasing a man who has been shadowing him since early in the story, and we see him demonstrate some rudimentary deductive skills of his own.
My quarry paused, looked back at me, and I felt a surge of power as I gained on him.
He turned and ran into an alley to his left. I followed at my top speed, just in time to see him run through a shadowed doorway on the left side at the end of the back street.
My breath was becoming more labored now, and I was forced to slow down, coming to a complete stop at the doorway, both to catch my wind and to avoid an ambush.
Entering with caution, I was at first blinded by the darkness after leaving the sunlight behind. My sight temporarily useless, I relied upon my other senses. Listening carefully, I heard heavy breathing nearby but was unable to locate it. I found myself in a dark, narrow passage. As my eyes adjusted, I realized the walls on each side of me were large barrels, stacked three high, such that I could not look over them. I smelled beer. A brewery.
I knew it was foolish to hunt a possible killer in the dark and unarmed, but my anger was only made hotter by the chase. I had two choices; go forward down the beer-lined path, or leave. I went forward.
The passage ran for about twenty feet before opening out into a large central area. I was approaching the end when the final column suddenly toppled over in front of me, and I leapt back just in time to avoid it landing on top of me. The top barrel burst open, covering the floor with its contents.
The man in the checked suit ran toward a door on the far side. I resumed my pursuit, but when I jumped over the barrels in my path I slipped and fell hard on the beer-slimed floor.
I scrambled up as fast as I could, and saw my man fling the door open and run out. I was careful not to slip again, but by the time I made it outside, had lost sight of him. Then I saw a man in a checked suit with a brown bowler hat walking away from me about one-hundred feet to my right. As I braced myself for another sprint, I noticed another man, in a similar suit and hat, walking away to my left at roughly the same distance.
Paralyzed with doubt, I looked down and saw wet footprints, which probably smelled of beer, going to my right.
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Bradley Harper.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds
P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!