The Original Idea

One might say that Dr. Watson made me do it.


The inspiration for A Study in Silks came to me years ago, long before I’d heard the word “steampunk.” It crept up the way stories so often do, unrolling in my mind like an impromptu movie. What made this episode different was that I actually wrote the scene down:  Sherlock Holmes’s niece meeting Dr. Watson in a tea room and demonstrating a marvelous clockwork toy. I was thinking of a YA story at the time, but I never got around to finishing it.


Of course, ignoring these little inspirations can be asking for trouble. Left to their own devices, they come crawling out of the primordial ooze of the imagination much bigger and more insistent for being ignored. What began as a nice little YA mystery emerged as a full-blown adult steampunk trilogy, complete with murder, mayhem, and airship pirates—not to mention ballrooms, dance cards, and a bevy of suitors. The heroine isn’t a schoolgirl any more, but a young woman about to launch into her first Season.


What remained from my first draft is that Evelina Cooper is the niece of Sherlock Holmes. He plays a supporting role, but the focus is on Evelina and her friends. We’re still in the late 1880s—the era of bustles and top hats, not to mention Jack the Ripper. And Evelina is still a genius with clockwork, but now she’s equally talented with magic.


As the story grew and developed, so did the conflict in the stories. Evelina is caught between the impoverished circus of her youth and the glittering social world of Mayfair. She has enough brains and courage to guide her steps between the two, but her greatest vulnerability is her heart. Nick is a dashing performer from the circus and her childhood sweetheart, and Tobias is the clever, creative heir to a title and estate. Both tempt her, but both could destroy her future.  And when Evelina’s suitors are forced to make their own life-altering choices, the depth of their love undergoes a painful test.


As the series progresses, the outbreak of war between sorcery and machine pushes their loyalties to the limit. None of the characters come through unscathed. The Baskerville Affair trilogy is an adventure filled with fantasy, magic, and, yes, mystery. One can’t bring Sherlock Holmes into the picture without puzzles to solve.


And where there is Holmes, we find Dr. Watson. He’s still smirking at me for finally finishing this story so many years later, so much bigger and more complex than I’d ever imagined.  I can see him jotting on his prescription pad: take three volumes and call me in the morning.


(originally published at Romantic Times)

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