Author Spotlight: Dave Fessenden

[box]Been a while since I’ve been able to bring you an Author Spotlight, but it’s back! At least for now. If you’re interested in having me spotlight you, let me know. Comments are good, so is Facebook, Twitter (@adgansky), etc. You get the idea.

This week, I feature Dave Fessenden, who launched out as an independent editorial and publishing consultant after 20 years in editorial management for Christian publishers. Dave has a B.A. in journalism, an M.A. in religion, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. In his previous positions Dave has edited scholarly and popular journals, served on the staff of a Bible institute, and edited a regional edition of the largest Protestant weekly newspaper in the country.

Dave has published six books, produced study guides for two titles by A.W. Tozer (published in the back of the books), written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and edited numerous academic and popular books. He did a 10-year stint as a regular columnist for Cross & Quill, a Christian writers newsletter, and is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. Dave also conducts Sunday school teaching workshops based on his book, Teaching with All Your Heart. This blog and website is based on Dave’s book, Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract, published by SonFire Media in 2011.

Dave recently made the plunge into novel writing with a Sherlock Holmes pastiche entitled The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy. It features the son of Dr. Watson and the smarter brother of Sherlock Holmes investigating the death of a speakeasy owner and his card-playing buddies in 1920s Philadelphia. The book is scheduled to be published later in 2013 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.[/box]

Dave fessendenADG: Your new book sounds like a lot of fun. Can you tell us a little more about it?

Thomas Watson leaves London to become a newspaper reporter in 1920s Philadelphia, in an attempt to get away from the shadow of his famous father, Dr. John Watson, and his father’s even more famous friend, the late Sherlock Holmes. After two short years, with little success in journalism and mourning the recent death of his father, Thomas suddenly finds himself caught up in the biggest story of his career: a suspicious explosion at a speakeasy, which kills the owner and his card-playing buddies. Convinced it is not a mob hit, as the police and his editor think, Thomas is helped by Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, recently arrived from England. Mycroft quickly solves the mystery but refuses to tell Thomas the solution, saying he should figure it out himself. With the scanty clues he has, Thomas tracks down the murderer—and almost becomes his next victim!

ADG: Very cool concept. What inspired you to write it?

I have been fascinated by the Sherlock Holmes stories for a long, long, time, and I have read every story Conan-Doyle wrote, several times over. I have also read many Sherlock-inspired pastiches. The kernel of The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy is at least 25 years old, and was inspired by a trip to . . . well, I can’t say, because that could reveal the ending! While I enjoy the character of Sherlock, his brother, Mycroft Holmes, is every bit as interesting; that’s why I’ve made Mycroft a major character in the book. I have also been fascinated by the 1920s and the history of organized crime, so I have set the book in that era and included real-life Philadelphia mobsters in the story. I plan to make this just the first in a series of novels with Mycroft Holmes and Thomas Watson in jazz-age Philly.

ADG: I’m really interested in having characters that are related to famous fictional characters. Can you tell us a bit more about Thomas and/or Mycroft? In what ways are they different from their famous relations?

Thomas is a bit more streetwise and “American” than his father, or at least he tries to be. He loved his dear old dad, but felt that his father didn’t quite understand him. Mycroft is more adept at observation and deduction than his brother was, and that is by Sherlock’s own admission. He is, however, more of an armchair detective, and leaves the legwork to Thomas.

ADG: What kinds of considerations did you have to make when writing in a world that includes iconic characters like Holmes and Watson?

It was important to me to maintain the personalities of the Conan-Doyle characters, especially when other recent authors and screenwriters have strayed quite far from the original. I had to expand somewhat on Mycroft’s character, because he is only mentioned in a few of the original stories. But I think my additions to Mycroft are logically consistent with what we know of him as Conan-Doyle portrayed him.

ADG: You mention other authors and screenwriters straying from the Holmes and Watson model Conan-Doyle created. I’m curious. Specifically, what’s your take on the Robert Downey Jr. films and some of the television adaptations of this classic character?

The two TV shows that both place Sherlock in modern times are fun, despite being a real departure. Holmes and Watson are truly products of their times — late Victorian — and so these TV shows really do not reflect the original Conan-Doyle stories much at all. But it’s all pretty much of a lark for these TV writers, and I enjoy them quite a bit. The Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock is pretty bad, I have to say, and I chalk that up to his acting ability. Watson as a character in the movie (I only saw the first one) is way off. The rest of the movie was interesting to me, but probably only because it reminded me so much of “Wild, Wild, West,” one of my favorite old TV shows. All in all, I thought the movie was not bad, if you just try to forget that they are portraying Holmes and Watson!

ADG: The relationship between Holmes and Watson is storied. How will the relationship between Thomas and Mycroft be different than that of Sherlock and Dr. John?

A very pertinent question! Thomas grew up with the Holmes brothers, and felt that his father put them both on a pedestal. Also being much younger than Mycroft, he tends to have some of the arrogance of youth and an impatience with the elderly Mycroft; he feels he has been saddled with the responsibility of looking after the old man. What surprises and frustrates him is how much the old man takes care of him.

ADG: dave fessenden coverDo you write anything other than detective fiction?

Most of what I’ve written (books and articles) is nonfiction — biography, Christian education, advice for writers. But I do have two other fiction ideas in the works. One is a historical novel set in late medieval/early Renaissance times (Canterbury Tales-esque). The other is a fantasy of three children who escape from an orphanage to find out why, after years and years, they have never grown to adulthood.

ADG: What types of stories (other than good ol’ Sherlock) did you read while composing the novel. Did these books in any way offer inspiration for anything in your book?

Well, I’ve read a lot of mystery novels, and watched a lot of old movies, of other well-known fictional detectives. One or more of them may make an appearance in later books in the series.

ADG: Anything else you want to share about the process of writing the book, or what you hope readers will gain from reading it?

I hope Christian readers will spend some time thinking about what the church can learn from the 1920s, because I think there are a lot of parallels to today.

ADG: You’ve written primarily non-fiction before jumping into fiction. How is the writing process different between fiction and non? Which do you prefer? Why?

I once read a quote by some author that said, “Fiction is harder to write than nonfiction, because fiction has to make sense.” Ha, ha — but there’s a point to that. I like fiction in that I can control the story; I find it harder to write because I often have to avoid writing myself into a corner — you know, I get my character into a jam that I can’t get him out of, or I have a plot twist that is too implausible. But I also like to write nonfiction because I’m an inveterate teacher. The writing process is different, but it’s hard to identify exactly how. It’s almost like you are using different sides of the brain, and maybe you are.

ADG: I’d agree with that. The mind works differently when doing non-fiction than it does when doing fiction. And speaking of different parts of the brain, you recently became an agent at WordWise Media. How are you enjoying that? Any famous clients? Are you looking to take on more writers, and if so, what are you looking for? What would you tell someone submitting to you?

My work as an agent is still fairly new, and I don’t have a large number of clients yet, and nobody famous — yet. Yes, I am seeking more clients — thoughtful and thought-provoking authors. They may be textbook level or academic level, but not necessarily. They should be books that are oriented toward serious laypeople and Christian leaders (though I have some contacts with ABA publishers, and I might consider some titles that are crossover in nature). In nonfiction, I am focusing on theology/popular theology, biblical studies, Bible studies (more challenging than average), Professional, Church Issues, Social/Cultural Issues, Career, and Reference. The fiction categories I seek to represent include speculative (sci-fi/fantasy) and historical, and as with the nonfiction categories, I am looking for more literary authors. As for advice, I would suggest that authors seek to develop their platform and polish their book proposals. (I am writing an ebook on preparing a book proposal, which will be out next year.)

ADG: I appreciate your time and your candid answers. How can my followers find out more about you?

I have a blog, fromconcepttocontract.com, and I am in the process of putting together other websites: ExplodingSpeakeasy.com and DaveFessenden.com.

1 Comment on Author Spotlight: Dave Fessenden

  1. This. Was. Awesome. I’m getting his book. Really good interview.

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