|Bill Fawcett: Admitting to Influence|
Everyone wants to know "the power behind the throne." Unfortunately, real-life Merlins tend to hide behind a smokescreen of incomprehensible titles and pseudonyms. Experts at misdirection, they reveal themselves only where you least expect them -- putting their real name on books or projects with almost no connection to their true claims to fame.
At DragonCon, Crescent Blues persuaded Bill Fawcett, one of the real wizards of the gaming, mystery and fantasy publishing worlds, to come clean about his involvement with Mycroft Holmes, the Inspector General's wife, Mayfair Games and Navy SEALs. The behind the scenes glimpses he provided of gaming and publishing -- and even a little peek into the workings of the Public Broadcasting System -- surprised even us.
Crescent Blues: Who is the mystery writer known as Quinn Fawcett?
Bill Fawcett: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Bill Fawcett with Quinn being the talented half.
Crescent Blues: Well, I sort of have my doubts on that one butů
Bill Fawcett: I don't. I see what we write. I'm an editor. Quinn's the talented half.
Crescent Blues: Is that how you work in the collaboration -- Quinn writes and you edit?
Bill Fawcett: Actually, we figure out the plot together. Quinn writes the bulk of the material with large gaps that say: "Bill, do 3,000 words that go from point A to point B with a fight scene that has this happen in it here." Or, "Go back and rewrite this chapter with all the historical background material we need in it." Or, "Write the board meeting on this train and create the characters, then tell me who they are so I can use them for the rest of the book."
In other words, she gives me the technical things, which I'm able to do as a historian. Then she does characterization, description -- which she is an expert at, as well. And between us we put together my action -- and she's also a wonderful action author. Neither of us is doing what the other couldn't. It's just that she has to find something for me to do. So she gives me those parts.
Crescent Blues: How did the collaboration start?
Bill Fawcett: I had worked with Quinn on prior projects. We had done another series of mysteries together, called "Mme. Vernet's Investigates," because we wanted to. I'm a Napoleonic-era historian by hobby. Quinn and I set the Mme. Vernet mysteries in that period, because we wanted to do a book where the French were the good guys instead of the bad guys.
We all read the British books, and Napoleon's people are always the vicious bad guys. Well, to half of Europe [the French] were the good guys, and come on, they're the ones who financed our revolution and who supported us. This country entered the War of 1812 rather stupidly in timing, because we were sympathetic to the universal image and the rule of law that attached itself to Napoleon.
The person we have is one of France's Inspector Generals, who bears no resemblance a certain movie character [Editor's note: the famous Danny Kaye character and movie of the same name]. Inspector General Vernet is a chief investigative officer, one of five in Napoleonic France. He is a confidante and familiar of Napoleon. But Mme. Vernet is the real investigator. While he takes off on the big things, she's the one who solves important cases in and around Paris, and when she goes with her husband to places like Egypt. Mme. Vernet is under all the restrictions of the French culture of that period, which was more liberal than any until today but still much more repressive to females than our own.
Bill Fawcett: No, no, not in the least. I am a field historian for the SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla. The official historian for the Navy SEALs is a retired ex-Navy captain who is an excellent historian and writer and who I have worked with. I'm very, very far from being an official military historian. Among other things, the captain has the security clearances to allow him to actually look at what happened -- something that no civilian from the outside should be able to do.
I write with and write about the Navy SEALs. I work with them. I've been privileged to know a large number of them. Privileged to work with their fraternal order, to work with various members of the SEALs, to do their stories or to interview many of them for books like Hunters & Shooters, an Oral History of the U.S. Navy SEALs in Vietnam, working with Kevin Dockery. I even worked with the last television special on the SEALs, but simply because I am a historian who works on it. There's nothing official involving either the military or the government in those projects.
Crescent Blues: Did you study history in school?
Bill Fawcett: History is my background in that I did study it in school, although my advanced degrees are not in history by any means. But who earns a living in what they trained to do?
History has always been my passion. What science fiction reader isn't a historian at heart? That's why alternate histories do so well. Look at what Quinn writes -- the Saint Germain novels. We are both fanatic history buffs. Therefore, it was quite logical when we decided another book -- and my little commercial nose went up and sniffed for money, and I went Sherlock [Holmes] is big. His brother Mycroft has never been licensed. Conan Doyle's estate lost control of that character; let's restore it.
I contacted the estate. We could have just gone and written [the books about Mycroft], because there was no reason to work through the estate. The character was public domain. But I wouldn't write a Tolkien [pastiche] involving his characters either -- even if they were in the public domain. You have to have a certain reverence to the people who were us -- the science fiction and fantasy community -- a hundred years ago or fifty years ago and did that creative work. So I went consciously to the estate to get their approval.
At the time Conan Doyle's granddaughter was still alive. (She has since died.) I requested permission and offered a payment program to them for the right to be the official Mycroft Holmes writer. The estate put certain restrictions on our writing. You will never see Sherlock on-camera in a Mycroft Holmes book. You will never see us dis any member of the royal family, and we will not introduce all the technology from the Wild, Wild West in the books.
Crescent Blues: [Laughs.] Well, that wouldn't be period
Bill Fawcett: That is exactly correct. We wanted accurate, period material in the books. We were inspired as much by the brilliant Jeremy Brett performances in the PBS series as anything else. In fact we were thoroughly crushed when their Mycroft Holmes unfortunately died. We did not take Charles Gray (the actor who played Mycroft in the PBS Sherlock Holmes series) as the exact model for our Mycroft. We took our model out of the book, but Gray's was a wonderful portrayal of that character.
Crescent Blues: Isn't there a fourth Mycroft book scheduled for release soon?
Bill Fawcett: Yes, our fourth Mycroft book. [Editor's note: The Scottish Ploy, scheduled for release in mid-December.] The first three are Against the Brotherhood, Embassy Row, and The Flying Scotsman. You could call The Flying Scotsman a locked room mystery. The last half of the book all takes place on a train ride from London to Edinburgh with all the major characters and everything going on just on the cars of the train.
The fourth book revolves around the fact that Mycroft has a substitute. Otherwise the Brotherhood would always know what was going on with [British Intelligence] by watching Mycroft. Did you ever wonder why nobody talks in Mycroft's club? That's because his substitute has a Cockney accent.
But Mycroft's double is an actor who can make himself up to look so much like Mycroft that as long as the actor doesn't talk people don't know the difference. Well, in this book, something happens to the actor and in order to investigate a plot that's going on, Mycroft and his double have to reverse roles. Mycroft has to join the theater company as the actor. The name of the book is The Scottish Ploy, so you can guess what play we're doing.
Crescent Blues: They say the reason "The Scottish Play" has a reputation for bad luck is that the theater owners always trotted it out when the company was in the red. It was a guaranteed box office smash. Here's hoping The Scottish Ploy will prove to be good box office too. What are your plans for the fifth Mycroft Holmes novel?
Bill Fawcett: It depends on whether a lot of people go out and buy The Scottish Ploy and the paperback of The Flying Scotsman, and whether PBS goes out and buys the series. There may or may not be a fifth volume.
Crescent Blues: Are you talking to PBS about a Mycroft Holmes series?
Bill Fawcett: Yes. We have a contract with a producer who has presented it to them and they're making their decision now. Of course they've have 47 series' that making a decision on for every slot so I'm not exactly putting the house up for sale to move to Hollywood yet.
Crescent Blues: [Laughs.] You'd hate the climate.
Bill Fawcett: It's the earthquakes.
Crescent Blues: Your college background seems to have been focused on history and other standard liberal arts subjects. How did you get from there to the areas for which you are most famous -- gaming, writing and packaging books?
Bill Fawcett: I've always been interested in gaming. When I finished school I worked at universities. Unfortunately -- and particularly in the late Sixties and early Seventies -- working in a university was like taking a vow of poverty. Certainly not one of chastity, but definitely one of poverty in the Sixties and Seventies. As a result when I started to realize that I had better get serious with life, sometime in my twenties, I moved into commercial training and education. I ended up in the insurance industry, which is necessary, very serious and conscientious -- and dull to the point of exquisite boredom.
My entertainment, my distraction was gaming. I was fortunate to be in the Chicago/Milwaukee area when the first Dungeons & Dragons game was being played from mimeographed sheets Gary [Gygax] had passed out to the group he was leading. And one of that group began running a D & D campaign that I was in. Interestingly enough he was an IRS agent -- well, he could enforce the die rolls. That's Lawful Evil. So I got an interest in it, became more involved, began writing in it. I was writing for gaming for about ten years before I even thought about anything in book form.
And then one day I was the liaison -- I already knew everyone in publishing as the liaison from my gaming company, Mayfair Games, where I had been brought in shortly after it was founded by the owners and made a partner. Anyway, I was working as the liaison to Berkley Publishing, which was distributing all our games in the book market.
One day Susan Allison handed me a book and said "You're going to come in tomorrow, I know you're here for the night, read this real quick and tell me what you think of it." To be quite honestů