Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What We're Writing? Hank says: Elementary, my dear Scully

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  What we’re writing? You will never believe it.  Up until eleven years ago, what I wrote were facts. Reporting and writing only what I saw and heard and discovered.  Only whatever truth I could discover.
Then one day--and my point is coming--I realized I could make stuff up. Write fiction. Make new worlds, and “report” on them. I created Charlotte McNally—and more good news on that soon. I created Jane Ryland—and the new Jane book WHAT YOU SEE is on the BOLO Best of 2015 list, hurray! And was also just named a Library Journal Best of 2015.
And the new Jane and Jake, titled---well, I'll keep that a secret for now--is in to the publisher! And I'll soon start on the next one.
 But I am also working in two more voices. One, in for the upcoming anthology of Sherlock Holmes-inspired short stories edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King—wow, huh?—I am the voice of Annabelle Holmes, a private detective in western Massachusetts.
And for an upcoming anthology of X-files stories edited by Jonathan Maberry—wow, huh?--I am the voice of Dana Scully. Yes, indeed. And in my story, she and Mulder are married. And expecting.
Here’s a taste of each.

“Miss Holmes?” Our visitor stood in the open office doorway, the glare from the morning sunshine creating a momentary silhouette.
Most of our clients are amused by my name, and as he came inside, our visitor’s smile revealed he had also made the connection. Surely as all Rhodes are Dusty and all Cassidys are Hopalong, if one’s name is Holmes, one is inescapably called Sherlock. Even though my real name is Annabelle.
As for the real Holmes, Watson reports she has read a few of the classic stories; certainly they are many and beloved.  I have not indulged, preferring to create my own adventures. Perhaps I’ll write them someday. Or perhaps, in keeping with literary tradition, Watson will.
“May we help you?” Watson asked. With her growing-out military haircut and newly-purchased “girl clothes” as she calls them, part of her job is to approach arriving clients and barricade me, as it were, from the initial contact. That gives me time to contemplate, assess, and calculate.
This morning’s visitor was dressed like a handsome groom on a wedding cake. Hardly expected for seven on an October morning.  The young man—late twenties, I calculated-- held a carryout cup of coffee in a white paper container.
“Annabelle Holmes?” He looked at me as he entered, then at Watson, then back at me.  As if trying to decide which of us he sought--the scarecrow in the black jeans, black t-shirt, spectacles and ponytail, or the short-haired cherub in the flowered skirt.
This waiter, or possibly bridegroom, was clearly flustered: his cheeks stubbled, dark hair in disarray, bow tie slanted askew, one of the black onyx studs in his shirtfront placket missing.
“I see you have not rented that evening wear,” I said, standing and holding out a welcoming hand.  “That you are left-handed.  And, moreover, that you are health conscious.” I hid my smile at his wide-eyed response. “I am Annabelle Holmes.  How can we be of service, Mr.—Arthur?”
   “Health conscious? Left-handed?” The man fairly sputtered in surprise as he shook mine. “And how did you know my name?
“And I must ask,” I continued, “since you are clearly in…” I paused, choosing my word carefully. “…distress.  Are you missing the bride to your groom?”
 “Missing the bride? How did you know?” He blinked at his reflection in the front window. “I see. Yes, I’m Arthur. Arthur Daley. But how did you know that?”
I glanced at Watson, who, as always, looked at me for answers. She still has not learned how I look for small details, and how they combine to create larger answers. Sometimes it is not difficult.
“Your name is written on your coffee cup, sir,” I said. “Along with your health conscious choice for skim milk.”
Watson rolled her eyes. “You kill me,” she muttered.

FROM “We Should Listen to Some Shostakovich”  (In which Scully and Mulder have received a huge oil painting of Dmitri Shostakovich as a wedding gift.)

“I knew it,” Mulder said. He stood at the top of the basement stairs, triumphant. He held a file folder in his hand, and no question what was coming next.
We were at breakfast; I was at least, sitting at the little table in the corner of our kitchen. Thirty seconds until my tea water boiled. Tea was about all I could hold down these days. 
And the Shostakovich had entered our lives as well. Not just Sitnikov’s painting, but the music.  The music of Shostakovich, his Eighth String Quartet, floated through our sun-lit room, the sorrowful notes poignant and heartbreaking.  We’d listened to a lot of Shostakovich over the past few days, and now, Mulder was saying he’d found articles about –well two things. One, that Shostakovich used codes in his music. For instance, that he’d transcribed DSCH, for Dmitri Shostakovich, into the first notes of the Quartet.
“With the note D as the letter D,” he’d explained. “And musicians know E-flat is S, and then C, and B is H.”
At least he’d come upstairs with research, not an X-file, which is what I had expected. But those were still at headquarters, and while the powers-that-be weighed our fates, the files were off limits. Or out of reach, at least. I considered my uneaten wheat toast. “Why does B equal H?”
These are the conversations we have.
“Who knows, “he said. “I don’t make the rules. I just find them.”
 And then, Mulder had looked up the dates of the Eighth.
“Check it out,” he’d said. “Shostakovich, according to this, wrote the eighth string quartet starting July 12, 1960. Know what else happened that day? A U.S. Navy C-47 cargo transport plane crashed into the side of a mountain near Quito, Ecuador, killing all 18 souls on board.”
“We’re not going to Ecuador,” I said.
He ignored me, what else is new. “On July 13, 1960 he was still writing. And you know what happened that day?”
All kinds of appropriate answers came to mind, but it was better just to let him talk.
“John F. Kennedy got the Democratic nomination for president.”
“We’re not going to Dallas,” I said.  Not again.
“All I’m saying,” Mulder poked the microwave button, handed me the cup of hot water. “All I’m saying is that our painting has got to be a code, too. Music lasts, paintings last. Better than microchips or microfilm or secret letters. Anyone can see them, or hear them. But the codes only communicate meaning to those who know what they’re looking for. Or listening for. The music means something. And the painting is telling us how to listen. Or, possibly, the music is telling us to look at the painting.  Either way, they’re connected. At least to each other, and probably to something more.”

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I really hope you scrolled down, looking for what came next. It’s been a true joy to write these stories, and I’ll let you know when they come out!  So, Reds, would you rather read an X-Files story? Or a Holmes-ish one?


  1. I don't believe I'd like to choose between an X-Files story or a Holmes-ish one . . . I'd like to read them both!

    Thanks for the glimpse into these two stories. You've piqued my interest [and my curiosity] and I'm already looking forward to reading the rest of these two tales.

  2. Hank as Agent Scully. Married to Mulder. With Shostakovich in the background? You have to ask? I can't wait.

  3. Grrr.... I AM NOT GOOD AT WAITING!!!!! ;-) And I want more--of both!!

  4. Holmes all the way (have no knowledge of XFiles. None). Love the gender reversal! Sounds like a great collection of stories.

  5. Edith, no...no knowledge of X-Files?! Mulder, break out a new folder--something is definitely wrong here!!

  6. Well, great! Love hearing this…It was quite an adventure to try to channel iconic characters. Really makes your brain work in a different way.

    Hallie and Debs are also writing for the Klinger/King anthology, so it'll be fun to see us in the same book, huh? ANd quite an honor to be asked.

    Have any of you X-files fans heard the term "shipper" before? I hadn't...

  7. Edith, none? It was really a cultural phenomenon back in the day. (The day meaning the 90s.) Can't wait for both anthologies.... I just want to know what Hank has for breakfast, because I need her energy!

  8. I love them both!

    I'm a huge X-files fan. My favorite episodes were the funny ones. Like when Mulder is about to thrust a stake through the heart of a kid/vampire he's been chasing and Scully pulls out his fake vampire teeth... cut to credits. Or the one where they go undercover in a gated community as married couple Ron and Laura Petrie (wink wink.)

    Never heard the term "shipper."

    My Sherlock Holmes story ("Understudy in Scarlet") is set, of course, on a Hollywood sound stage where a remake of Scandal in Bohemia is afoot. And I've read Hank's Adventure of the Dancing Women and you are in for a huge treat!

  9. OH, I;ve never seen that episode, Hallie! And your SHerlock-inspired story is such a terrific example of thinking out side the box. SO impressive.

    And, my dear Susan, I do not have a child. Just saying. (OR all those wonderful events in my future--watch this space for NEWS, Reds!)

    Anyone else? Shipper?

  10. These are so much fun Hank--you're a whirling dervish! It would be impossible to choose--luckily, we won't have to...

  11. Must we choose? Stories where the characters use their intellects, rather than "devices", are far more intriguing.

  12. Oh, so interesting, S. E. Warwick--what do you mean, "devices"?

  13. Yes, really. Never seen X-Files. I really don't watch any television (at least since West Wing ended #sigh#) except the occasional British thing like Downton, Grantchester, or Call the Midwife. But I'll be delighted to read Hank's story, anyway!

  14. My daughter told me all about "shipping" so yeah, I'm familiar with it. Where fans put characters in relationships. Like all the people who think Harry should have really ended up with Hermione. As I understand it, shipping is a staple of fan fiction.

    I think I might have seen half an episode of "the X files" in college because one of my apartment-mates was a fan. Other than that, I'm vaguely aware it has something to do with aliens--I think. Maybe.

    So yeah, while I'd read them both I'd take the Holmes story first.

  15. Hank, brilliant, both of them. You have such a flair for dialing!

  16. I'd rather read a Holmes-ish story; never saw even a partial episode of the X-files. Loved your voice, Hank, as Holmes. More please and soon.


  17. Oh, so wonderful! Thank you so much--and Rhys, aw. Thank you.

    It was SO educational to write "as" a Sherlock Holmes-ish character. Because it made me realize why Arthur Conan Doyle most often wrote from Watson's point of view!

    And, re-studying the stories, I saw how much backstory there is--and how much fun it is to read that! Why does it work so well, there, I wonder?

  18. Hank, love the stories! Can't wait to read them! Of course I love Holmes (having just written a Holmes story myself) but I was a huge X-Files fan. HUGE. That was we did on Sunday nights--we watched the X-Files. And now I want to go back and watch the whole series again. Wish I had the time... Hank, did you have to give yourself a Mulder and Scully "refresher?" And Hallie, I loved the funny ones, too.

    Hmm, thinking maybe I should put X-Files DVDs on my Christmas list. We had loads of episodes on video but not longer have a working VCR.

  19. <3 Debs and Hank--fortunately we don't have to choose whose stories we'll read! xoxoxxxx

  20. I had a moment of pure, unadulterated, fan-girl joy before I even scrolled down to read the two excerpts. Two of my all time favorites! What a privilege for you to get to write for both!!

    Both are excellent, but I have to admit it was the Holmes story that most captivated me. Your tone was perfect! Can't wait to read the finished product, and the whole anthology. And then I'll pick up the X-Files one. Now filled with eager anticipation!

  21. I have to say, though, it was the X-Files that got me through all those years of graduate school and beyond!

  22. Well played, very well played.
    Both are delightful, but the Holmes one is my favorite temptation.

  23. Huh? I posted a comment earlier, and it seems to have disappeared. So, here it is again.

    Hank Phillippi Ryan, you are an incredible writer, and I loved both of the excerpts. Of course, being a Sherlock fan, the Anna Holmes one was especially wonderful. I hate to admit it, but I didn't watch the X-Files. However, your story is going to make me wish I had and maybe should. And, I can't wait to read all of both these stories and Hallie's and Debs' stories, too.

    What You See is going to be on lots of Best of 2015 Reading lists, including mine, which will be out in a couple of weeks.

  24. I have to pick one? No! Love Holmes, love the X Files. And the truth is out there next month!

  25. Oh, yes, I had to do EXTENSIVE research...can you imagine? There were times when I should have been cleaning or cooking and I had to say: Sorry, gotta work .Gotta watch X-files! Oh, yes, someone had to do it.

    And I also binged on Holmes. Well, it's all in the name of growing as a writer. Right?

  26. Kathy Reel! Thank you thank you! Hurray!