I owe it all to Bill, Arthur and Irene.
That’s Bill Cameron for setting, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for characters, and my wife Irene for story.
Here’s how it happened:
Cap’n Bob (aka Robert S.) Napier was riding high on the publication of his first novel, Love, Death and the Toyman, and was invited to roll down from Tacoma to make two personal appearances in Portland. As President of the Oregon chapter of his fan club, I tagged along. The first event was a panel of writers at a meeting of the Friends of Mystery, a local club headed by my old friends Ellie and Jim Rogers.
One of the six panelists was Bill Cameron, discussing the writing and publication of his first novel, Lost Dog. Of all the books featured, his was the one I wanted most to read. So I did, and it was great stuff. I especially enjoyed the way he used Portland as a setting, and told him so at the next event, a gathering of Northwest mystery writers at fabled Powell’s bookstore.
At the time, I was working on a historical adventure novel and engaging in creative avoidance by whacking out an occasional short story. These included three mysteries featuring a modern-day descendant of Davy Crockett (still unsold), two stories about Davy’s grandson in the Old West, and a tall tale starring legendary Texas hero Strap Buckner.
Lost Dog made me want to write a mystery set in Portland. As cities go, Portland has a quirky personality, rising almost to the level of a character. (Note: I have since enjoyed Bill’s subsequent books, Chasing Smoke and Day One, and look forward to the next, County Line.)
Now determined to write a mystery, I did some brainstorming to come with a suitable hero. Ideally, I figured my character should: 1) Be immediately accessible to just about anyone, 2) Have a sidekick, so I could have fun with their banter, and 3) Lend himself - or herself - to stories of any length, from flash fiction to novel.
After putting those ideas through the grinder, I reached some conclusions. Everybody knows, and just about everybody likes, Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson is the perfect sidekick to highlight both the human and extrahuman sides of Holmes. And Conan Doyle himself had proved that the characters worked well in tales of any length. His story “How Watson Learned the Trick,” reprinted in Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha, would today be considered flash fiction.