The author of "The Anatomist" bares all!
Her COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP
with rough drafts...!
fic she's PANTING TO READ
A TANTALISING GLIMPSE
into her current WIP!!!
Meanwhile, your intrepid moderator tries very hard to pretend this is an episode of "Fresh Air", and by a supreme effort of willpower the conversation does not devolve into Laurie R. King fangirling or odes to Peter Wimsey's monocle.
Last week, rosa_acicularis was kind enough to chat with me about Sherlock, fandom, and writing. If you're looking for her work, her AO3 page is here, and her LiveJournal masterlist is here. Mind the warnings!
FurtherInterest: How long have you been in fandom?
Rose: Since I was fourteen. I can't remember exactly how I found X-Files fandom, particularly considering I didn't watch the show, but somehow I stumbled into it. It didn't even occur to me to try to write - partially because I knew nothing about the show. I wrote a lot of original stuff back then, mostly little skits and plays. I didn't start writing until I discovered The West Wing about a year later. I wrote a lot of terrible Josh/Donna fic.
FurtherInterest: I won't judge. :)
Rose: We all have to start somewhere, right?
FurtherInterest: What are your primary fandoms right now?
Rose: Doctor Who was what brought me back to fandom when I was in college, and it'll probably always be my main fandom, even though I rarely read fic anymore. I'd say Sherlock and Doctor Who right now.
FurtherInterest: Have you written in any other Holmesian 'verses?
Rose: I've always wanted to write Mary Russell fic, but it's funny how you can love a text so much and yet still be completely uninspired to write in that 'verse. I read anything Holmesian. I've been reading a lot of canon-based fic recently, and I really enjoy it.
FurtherInterest: Can you talk about about your relationship with Doyle's canon, both as a writer and a reader? Do you have any particular favourites from the original canon?
Rose: I came to the original stories in a slightly strange way. I was obsessed with Harry Houdini when I was a kid, and most of biographies I read touched on his rather complicated friendship with Conan Doyle. I'd read Speckled Band a couple of times in school - I was 11, maybe 12 - and while I liked it a lot, it alone didn't inspire me to seek about the other stories. I think I had this idea that they were somehow like the Hardy Boys or something - that unless a mystery story starred Nancy Drew or characters from the Babysitters Club, it wasn't meant for girls and I wouldn't like it.
But then I read about Conan Doyle and what a strange man he was, and I really wanted to read his stuff. And the easiest thing to find was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Thus the love began. :)
FurtherInterest: So what was it about Sherlock that prompted you to start writing [Holmes stories]? "The Anatomist" was your first fic in the fandom, wasn't it?
Rose: Anatomist was my first. I really resisted writing for Sherlock, but it was Sally Donovan, actually, who sucked me in.
I really wanted to write a pre-series story about why she insisted that Sherlock would always - paraphrasing here - run off and leave just when you needed him. She gets pretty emotional about it when Sherlock goes off with the cabbie in Study in Pink, and I was sure there was a specific story behind it. But I never figured out what it was, so I never wrote it.
But that opened the door, and then, without really realizing it, I was thinking about Molly as Moriarty. So really, I suppose, it was my frustration over the neglected female characters in the show that started me writing. I don't think I would have bothered if I hadn't been so annoyed. ;)
FurtherInterest: I was going to ask if you'd made a conscious choice to write about women, but it sounds as though you did.
Rose: No, it was definitely intentional.
FurtherInterest: Is it possible to write about women in this fandom without making a conscious choice to do so?
Rose: Ooh, good question....I feel like any time you choose a minor character as the focus for your story you're making some kind of statement. Because you're deliberately choosing to emphasis some part of the story that the canon neglected, for whatever reason.
But whenever I read a fic about Sally or Mrs. Hudson or even Sarah, I do feel like the author is saying, 'You may not have been able to tell from the show, but these characters have a legitimate point of view and a story equally entertaining as those that have an eerily attractive tall white dude at their center.'
FurtherInterest: Was that the statement you were going for with "The Anatomist"?
Rose: In a way, yeah. Certainly when I started. The funny thing about writing a fic that intends to make a Statement, I think, is that by the time you're really in it you're so caught up in the characters and...the unfolding story that you forget all about the point you were trying to make.
At least, that has been my experience.
FurtherInterest: Which is as it should be, I think--it's one thing to set out to write issue-fic, but at some point the story's got to come through.
Rose: Absolutely. The initial goal of The Anatomist was to write a legitimate female Moriarty without contradicting anything we'd seen in the show itself. Both Molly and Jim would truly be as we saw them in the episodes, but they'd also be more than that. Thus the excessive amount of backstory. ;)
FurtherInterest: I wouldn't call it excessive. Excessively creepy, maybe.
Rose: Nothing is as much fun to write as creepy.
FurtherInterest: I remember wondering what their father thought of the children he'd managed to produce. Did you see them as the result of their upbringing?
Rose: Very much so. I think each parent in that family really focused only on one of their children - thus why Molly had such a limited view of her mother. And Jim unsettled their father. I thought a lot about the way you would view death and killing if you grew up in a world where it was treated so casually.
FurtherInterest: In your post about WIPs some time ago, you mentioned how difficult you found that story. Was it because of writing in that mindset?
Rose: Honestly, as terrible as this sounds, that ruthless mindset is one of the easier and more exciting parts of working on Anatomist. The emotional difficulty comes more from the horrible things I intend to put poor Molly through in the future. :) I've decided to call the story finished as it stands, but there's definitely more to tell. I want to finish my current WIP first, however.
FurtherInterest: I'm glad to hear it! [W]ould you care to give us some details [about your current WIP]?
Rose: What I'm working on right now is something really new for me. It's a genderswapped John Watson AU, in which Joanna is a witch and Sherlock is mostly clueless. There's backstory (yet again) and something disturbingly resembling a plot.... I'm terrible at summarizing fics.
FurtherInterest: So, why genderswap?
Rose: I have often asked that myself.
FurtherInterest: Do you see it as a different approach to the issues you talked about earlier?
Rose: In a way. I mean, those issues are certainly part of why I so enjoy reading genderswap. As this story was originally conceived, the fact that John was Joanna was intrinsic to the story I intended to tell, but then...things evolved. Like they do. And now I do worry that I'm writing John as Joanna out of some reluctance to write from a male character's POV.
FurtherInterest: Are you generally reluctant to write a male POV, or is that specific to Sherlock fic so far?
Rose: I didn't really see the pattern until I started pondering the genderswap question, but yes - in fan fiction, I almost always write from a female POV. The Doctor from Doctor Who might be the only exception to that. And I'm not sure if that's a simple case of writing the sort of protagonists I want to see more of on television - complex female characters - or if I'm just being...creatively complacent?
FurtherInterest: Is that the sort of protagonist you prefer in fic, too? And more generally, do you seek out the same sort of fic you like to write, or do you want something different as a consumer than as a producer?
Rose: As a reader, I'm attracted to fandoms that have a lot of variety in terms of tone and style. When I first started reading fic I wanted to read only about certain characters falling in love in certain ways; I couldn't have cared less about the quality of what I was reading. Now I'll try pretty much anything, but if the author doesn't convince me of the reality of that story in the first two paragraphs, I'm out of there. Which is a sort of circuitous way of saying that I actually prefer to read things very different to what I write, but only if they're shiny.
Or: I am old now, and only have time to read good fic. Unlike everyone else. :)
FurtherInterest: From a reader's perspective, what would be your ideal Sherlock fic?
Rose: I think my ideal Sherlock fic as a reader would be an epic character study about how the Sherlock we see in the show evolves, probably under John's guidance to a certain degree, into a more mature, canon-like Holmes. Because I do see Sherlock as very young still. Emotionally.
My second choice would be a fic in which Sherlock and John get hilariously kidnapped and Mrs. Hudson has to save their asses.
...Yeah, actually, I've changed my mind. I don't care about the first thing. I just want Mrs. Hudson kicking ass and taking names. So sweetly.
FurtherInterest: Do you look at all for 'ships, when you read? Usually that's one of the first things to come up when people start talking fic. And, relatedly, what do you prefer on the gen > romance > smut continuum?
Rose: I do look at 'ships, but they don't usually factor into what I read and what I pass by. Though I admit that I am oddly reluctant to read 'ships involving Lestrade. I have no idea why. Maybe I just hope the poor man has a sane home life and doesn't need to caught up in all this nonsense? I think he deserves it.
As for gen and romance and smut, I enjoy all of the above. PWP is usually pretty dull, but smut within the context of a well written fic is [fine] by me.
FurtherInterest: And when you're the one doing the writing? Most of what I've read of yours has been gen, or at least not pairing-focused.
Rose: I've moved away from writing pairing-focused stuff in recent years. I used to do pretty straightforward shipfic, but I've found that what really intrigues me is the different forms intense emotional relationships can take. Which explains Jim and Molly, I suppose.
FurtherInterest: ...er, yes.
Rose: Oh, so wrong. So much wrongness.
FurtherInterest: And so wound up in her relationships with other people, which is fascinating and very true to the was such singleminded emotional intensity works in real life, I think...I remember I particularly liked the touch with Carl Powers.
Rose: Thank you. The moment I realized that Molly would have known Carl too was the moment I went, "Oh, so that's where this twisted little relationship is going. All right, then."
I read a bit about sociopathy as I was researching for the fic, and one thing that intrigued me was the way sociopaths consider the people they care about to be part of themselves, rather than distinct people with their own thoughts and feelings. I never sat down and said, "All right, so Jim is a sociopath and so he would act like this," but I did use ideas like that to inform the character. That's what I liked so much about the idea of making them twins, rather than just siblings. (Though part of that was also to maintain a power balance that might have been upset by an age difference) I think in many ways Molly and Jim considered themselves one person.
FurtherInterest: Is research a big part of your writing?
Rose: Oh, yeah. I'm an obsessive researcher. Not so much for accuracy's sake, because I still will just make crap up when pressed, but because it's inspiring.
FurtherInterest: Do you tend to spend lots of time researching before you sit down to write, or does it come up as you go? Are you a planner and an outliner, or do you need to have a good start before you see where things are going?
Rose: I usually research as I write, sometimes almost as a sort of procrastination when I'm stuck on something and don't know how to fix it. I've only recently started to use outlines - probably because I've only recently started writing stories with enough in the way of plot to require them. I still tend to plan and outline and prepare and then ditch it all when it actually comes time to write the scene.
The best things always seem to be the ones that come out of nowhere. It's terribly frustrating.
FurtherInterest: I've always liked the idea that stories are out there, waiting, and an author's job is to dig them up--not sure how far I actually believe that, but I do think the subconscious makes connections on its own, and we sometimes have to struggle to catch up and piece everything together.
Rose: It certainly feels like that, doesn't it?
FurtherInterest: Do you have a favourite character to write, or one that comes to you with the most difficulty?
Rose: Sherlock is really hard. I often feel like I have twenty-seven versions of him in my mind, and every time I sit down to write a line of dialogue for him I have twenty-seven options.
This is actually an improvement. When I was working on The Anatomist, I felt like I had forty-two. I've narrowed it down.
FurtherInterest: He's awfully difficult to pin down. Do you think that's in part because of all the versions of him you've read or seen?
Rose: Yes, absolutely. And fandom isn't helping.
Canon-Holmes and Mary Russell's Holmes are probably loudest in my head, and they both thing all this is absolutely absurd.
And they wish people would stop calling them by their first name.
FurtherInterest: Since you bring it up, I was just going to ask....other than the obvious with setting and certain characters and plot choices, do you find your work is informed most by Doyle, or by Laurie R. King, or by the BBC?
Rose: I think I had this subconscious desire with The Anatomist to de-emphasize the modernness of the modern update. It was definitely set in the late 20th century, but I wanted it to feel Victorian, somehow.
And Laurie R. King's series is definitely informing my current WIP, though I'm not sure exactly how, yet.
FurtherInterest: The rhythm of your prose is decidedly un-modern, in my opinion--and "Arcana" [the current WIP] seems steeped in something much older, but that may be due in part to the subject matter.
Rose: Yes, that's certainly what I'm trying for. I've been reading a lot of fairy and folk tales lately. There's something about those styles that really appeal to me.
I did originally start Arcana with the intention of making it a straight up Sherlockian fairy tale.
FurtherInterest: Yes, I wanted to ask about the magical AU, but we got sidetracked by genderswap.
Rose: Genderswap does that. That minx.
I've never actually written an AU like this before. It's harder than I thought it would be. Lots of research. ;)
FurtherInterest: Are you enjoying the worldbuilding, or is it hard to balance that with the flow of the writing?
Rose: I'm definitely enjoying it, but I think I'm second guessing myself more than usual because it's new to me. Every piece of magic needs to feel at least somewhat original, while also (hopefully) evoking something very old and familiar. And it needs to make sense in terms of all the magic that's been mentioned previously. I need spreadsheets.
That would probably be bad, though, wouldn't it? Talk about killing the spontaneity.
FurtherInterest: Though that's the difference between rough drafts and revisions, isn't it?
Rose: Oh, me and rough drafts. We have a complicated relationship. Fandom actually taught [me] how to work in drafts. When I wrote original fiction, I used to insist on every sentence being perfect before I could move onto the next. Then I had my first beta reader, and she tried to beat that out of me.
The beating was only figurative.
FurtherInterest: Is it easier, now, to just let the words out, or are you still overcritical on the first draft?
Rose: I'm definitely still overcritical. It's why I'm so slow. I'm probably revising more aggressively on this WIP than I have on anything, ever. I deleted a whole scene the other day - one that's been part of a completed chapter for weeks. I've never done that before. And you know what? It was the right decision. I feel really good about it. I only cried a little.
FurtherInterest: You've posted several cut scenes as separate works, though--one for "The Anatomist" and the other for your current WIP.
Rose: Troubling Syntax - the outtake from Anatomist - was a scene I had planned forever but could never fit into the story itself. Partly because of tone, partly because it was from John's POV. I felt all along that I'd have to address this issue of Molly's blog. It weighed on my soul.
FurtherInterest: To wrap up, is there anything you find particularly inspiring or frustrating about [Holmes fandom]? Any fannish pet peeves or bulletproof kinks?
Rose: One thing about Sherlock fandom in particular that I've enjoyed is something I've noticed about a lot of strong (though not necessarily large) fandoms - that it proactively addresses the weaknesses of the source material in its fanworks.
FurtherInterest: Thanks so much for doing this!
I asked Rose to pick a favourite excerpt from one of her stories. She chose this passage from "The Anatomist":
Jim understands so much about her, more than anyone else ever will, but he cannot understand this. Jim thinks people are small, futile things, tin wind-up toys built either to irritate or entertain; he does not see the beauty of their architecture, the stunning complexities in a deceptively simple system. Life requires such delicate balances of blood and breath, acid and bile, tissue and bone, and she has always seen something beautiful in its ceasing. Death is the airless silence at the end of a symphony, an absence that preserves all that came before. It holds the answer to every question she’s ever asked.
“I hear if you puke on the corpse, it’s an automatic fail,” the girl next to her whispers, a cruel lift to the edges of her smile. Molly gulps, loud enough for the whole class to hear, and the room echoes with nervous laughter. The girl smirks, and Molly pictures her on a steel autopsy table, naked and grey beneath her knife.
One body at a time, Molly thinks, and makes the first, neat incision in the dead man’s chest.
This is the first part of what I hope will become a regular series. If you're interested in giving an interview or interviewing someone else, leave a comment on this post or drop me a line!