by Linda Reid
aka YS Pascal
Check this issue for a review of Linda Reid’s new book Deep Waters, a giveaway of the book, and an interview with Linda.
Went to see a lovely play at the Geffen last week, Mysterious Circumstances, starring Alan Tudyk as Richard Green and…Sherlock Holmes. One scene especially resonated with me, as Holmes scholar Green is shaken by the sudden rejection and ejection from his fandom by Dame Jean Conan Doyle, sir Arthur’s youngest daughter and heir. Memories abounded…turning the page back to 1983…
An item in the Washington Post drew my eye. Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain. I didn’t see any fine print that this change was limited to the UK and Canada. As an enthusiastic Holmes fan, I reached out to my fellow author, Mary Witherspoon Matthews, with a nascent idea. We’d read and enjoyed pastiches and mash-ups such as Seven Percent Solution, about Holmes and Fu Manchu, and Michael Dibdin’s masterpiece, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, about Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Both Mary and I were avid Star Trek fans as well; could we find a way to build a rollicking tale that brought together our two fandoms?
Elementary, My Dear Spock was completed in late 1984, and, full of hope, we sent it off to Mary’s agent with our fingers crossed. Her agent was impressed and forwarded the manuscript to Simon and Schuster’s Pocket Books, the department overseeing the publication of Star Trek paperbacks and hardbacks, most of whom were best sellers in the 80s. Imagine our joy when the agent called us to say that Pocket Books loved our draft and wanted to publish it in 1986 as a publicized hardback for the 100th anniversary of the first Holmes story and the upcoming release of Star Trek IV. (The one with the whales.)
I had just moved to Los Angeles to work for the Lifetime Cable Network, and, thrilled, quickly began imagining an exciting writing career, perhaps as a staff writer for the new Star Trek incarnation in the works, The Next Generation. Mary, we got our big break!
Alas, due to Dame Jean Conan Doyle, or as we affectionately labeled her, Darn Jean Conan Doyle, our dreams were not to be. A couple of weeks later, Star Trek Books editor Dave Stern sent an apologetic letter to our agent. They loved our manuscript, but Dame Jean Conan Doyle, aiming to protect her father’s characters, had decided that she would no longer approve pastiches of Holmes, no matter how well and respectfully written. The Doyle estate vehemently declined both Pocket’s and our entreaties to release the book—even if we sweetened the deal by offering the estate all of Mary’s and my royalties. Dame Jean was un-budge-able, and threatened to sue us if we approached the estate again. I tried one Hail Mary Pass—wasn’t Holmes in the public domain? Yes, Stern explained, but not in the US, thanks to the copyright extensions introduced by Rep. Sonny Bono. Sadly, our book had to be shelved.
Hoping that all was not lost, I stayed in touch with Editors Stern, then Ordover, then Palmieri over the next decades. The Doyle estate had ended up suing Paramount for using the Moriarty character in ST: Next Gen, and now Paramount had cold feet about tangling with Holmes’ world again. It was a no go.
Fast forward almost thirty years, and, fancy that, Holmes pastiches began appearing on bookshelves and online. Dame Jean had passed away in 1997, and the estate was now looking at requests more liberally. Star Trek books had moved on with the changing audience and the sprouting of new Star Trek series, but many Star Trek fans of the original series had begun producing video/filmed pastiches of The Original Series such as Star Trek Axanar and Star Trek Continues, which are available for free online, and considered as “fan fiction.” Seeing those, Mary and I decided to share our manuscript with Holmes and Trek fans as free fan fiction online, on her website at www.extremelysmart.com/magrathea. Almost 20,000 readers have downloaded, and, we hope, enjoyed this exciting tale.
Finally, as of 2015, the first fifty of the Holmes stories and novels are in the public domain. But, as The Guardian says, “…steer clear of Watson’s second wife.” The last ten of the Holmes stories published from 1923 to 1927 are still under copyright protection in the US. Holmes aficionados are free to use their imagination, as Richard Green was wont to do in Mysterious Circumstances, to enjoy adventures with their hero. Now, if you’re inclined to do the same with Star Trek in its various versions, all protected by a complex web of copyrights with organizations such as CBS and Paramount, just be on red alert. Space may be “the final frontier,” but it’s already populated by attorneys…wink, wink.
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