Steve Hockensmith: Holmesifyin'
Excerpt from the interview by Lynn Kaczmarek in the February /March 2008 issue of Mystery News
OK, so maybe I did grow up on westerns. Maybe the Cisco Kid, Paladin and Johnny Yuma were my favorite television characters. But jeez, I grew out of that years ago. So when the Holmes on the Range galley came in, my high-falootin' nose went up in the air immediately. I passed it on to Tim Davis, a reviewer of wide-ranging tastes and a discerning eye. When the review came back with a 4.5 out of 5 rating, I knew there must be more to Steve Hockensmith than a cute book title. When he and I talked right after the New Year, it was pretty apparent that there was much more to Steve Hockensmith.
With a background in journalism, Hockensmith did stints with the Chicago Tribune, The Fort Worth Star-Tribune, and Newsday. It was the year as an editor or The X-Files Official Magazine and three years as editor of Cinescape that caused my husband pause. (Cinescape is a magazine devoted to movies in which things explode.) Now Hockensmith's a fulltime writer (and has a part-time job diapering children--his, of course). Like I said, there's much more to Hockensmith than a cute book title.
Holmes on the Range was the first in a series featuring two cowboys--Gustav "Old Red" Amlingmeyer and Otto "Big Red" Amlingmeyer. Looking for a job in 1893's Montana is a difficult proposition and the brothers finally sign on as ranch hands at the Bar VR. Finding a dead body out on the range (and then another in a locked outhouse) was not anyone's idea of a good time and the boys set out to employ the deducifyin' skills of one Sherlock Holmes. So there we have the overall premise of the series--two brothers totally entranced with the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (having read about their adventures in the latest copy of Harper's) put those well-honed skills into practice in the Old West. You know, kind of like Sherlock Holmes meets the Cisco Kid. And it all sounds a bit goofy to the uninitiated. But in reality, these are cleverly written, well-plotted detective mysteries with a nice comfortable sense of humor and perhaps just a tad too much cowboy "lingo." It's worth overlooking that, though, and it definitely calms down by the time the third book, The Black Dove comes along. (Check out Tim Davis's review in this issue for more on The Black Dove.)
In this time of the "thriller", I wondered why on earth anyone would want to begin such a series. "I didn't really choose to write a western mystery," said Hockensmith, "I was looking around trying to figure out what was going to be my next stab at a novel and I'd been doing short stories for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for a while and I thought well, the smart thing to do would be to pick on one of those characters." Hockensmith had two such series--one featuring "a depressed retired Indiana cop named Larry Erie and thought you know, that would be OK, but I think everybody would be so depressed by the end of the book, either Larry Erie would have to be dead at the end, or the readers would have killed themselves." Luckily, Hockensmith chose the other series--the one featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers. "I didn't really even think about it until I was almost done in terms of 'holy crap, this is kind of a western, isn't it?'...I never set out to do westerns, really, I set out to do a mystery series. So it was all this accident of my dimness. And I consider myself lucky that it worked out as well as it has, because boy, very easily that could have been buried and gone nowhere."
...on Steve's desk is a calendar where he keeps track of how many words he's written every day. "I think I need to give myself something to shoot for every day...I've found that guilt is a really powerful motivator." So we have The Big Board, the calendar, the computer, CDs, papers, papers and more papers, baby bottles and coffee. "Number one you have to have inspiration. Number two, you've gotta have coffee and Splenda and cream...around 2 in the afternoon I'll start to get the jitters from being so highly percolated. That's when I switch over to peppermints."
Sounds like the desk of a writer. He's probably putting that X on The Big Board and his number of words for the day in his calendar at this very moment. As for me, I'm glad that he's probably just about past the panic zone and getting that next book ready for submission. I can't wait to see what detectifyin' Old Red and Big Red get up to next. So maybe I'm not really past that Cisco Kid thing after all...
Read the complete interview in the February/March 2008 issue of Mystery News