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My kids started me watching the new Sherlock series from BBC America. It’s a modern retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. I like it a lot, not just for the cleverness of the adaptation or for the mental puzzles of figuring out who did it and how, more for the characterization and relationship between the brilliant and rather autistic Sherlock (played by Benedict
Cumberbatch) and his more easily relatable friend, John Watson (played by Martin Freeman).

Going backwards in a way I don’t usually do, I am now reading all the original stories. What still interests me most are the relationships between the characters and also the motives of the criminals. Somehow, reading these stories is helping me think about villains, which tends to be hard for me.

A while back there was a test that was purportedly designed to identify psychopaths (this has since been debunked on Snopes). I failed it miserably and although that might be reassuring to my friends and family, maybe it just proves that I have trouble thinking in the same way as the perpetrator of this particular Internet hoax. I know I can’t think about villains as easily  as writers of detective stories and thrillers do. Not all villains are psychopaths either, but even so, they may need to be capable of premeditated harm. I think it takes a certain skill for basically decent people to envision that.

Back to Sherlock Holmes. Have you seen the new series and what did you think?  I haven’t seen any other film adaptations. Are there any you’d recommend? Did you know that Sherlock Holmes never actually said the words “Elementary, dear Watson”?

What are your favorite sorts of villains either to write or read about? And if you haven’t taken it before, here is a link to the psychopath test. Let us know whether you figured it out!


Last night I dreamed I was in a car crash, nothing serious, just an annoying fender bender, but it felt very real.

Then, today, when I drove to the post office … nothing happened. Did the dream make me more careful? Or, did the dream mean nothing at all, but it was one of those rare ones that I remembered? It certainly made a change from the ones where I’m looking for a bathroom and when I find one it has glass walls and is situated on Paddingston Station in London during rush hour.

I often wish I could dream plots, because I have so much trouble with them. The closest I’ve got is having things click into place as I’m falling asleep and my brain is doing whatever it does at that point–beginning some sort of unwinding process that may be part of the dream process.

But years, decades ago, before I even thought of writing I had an extraordinarily vivid dream which was entirely third person, in that it wasn’t about me but I was the observer.Now, on the occasions when I revisit the dream, I’m the incompetent manipulator. I suspect it was the plot of a book I read or started reading and never finished, so if anyone can identify it, that would be fascinating. On the other hand, the plot devices might be from any number of books.

The heroine is a courtesan in late-ish nineteenth century … somewhere. Not England, not the Regency, somewhere eastern European. Her current official lover is an officer who is not always around because he’s engaged in some sort of futile military silliness but he comes into town occasionally and usually finds her with a drawing room full of lefties and poets and intellectuals. I borrowed bits of this for Dedication, my first book; I think it may also have its origins in minor characters in Tolstoy.

So he falls in love with a sweet young thing who the family want him to marry as his duty etc. (Kitty and Levin in Anna Karenina? Who knows). He tells the heroine, who isn’t too pleased, and asks if she’ll return a necklace he gave her. Because, and he really shouldn’t have done this, he gave her the family jewels (pause for other English people to recover from their merriment). She doesn’t say yes but she doesn’t say no either, and at this point I get stuck.

In some versions of the dream, she stages a grand revenge when she flings the necklace at his feet at the opera in front of the fiancee. And I think that probably is from an opera, but I don’t think I’d ever write a heroine who behaves badly in such an unsubtle way. Or, in other versions, it becomes A Scandal in Bohemia, which features the fascinating adventuress Irene Adler:

To Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex…

In other words, she’s smarter than the male protagonists and surrenders the necklace only when a reciprocal sacrifice has been made. At this point I surrender to my usual plotting technique (if it can be described as such) and start considering other characters: the newspaper editor who is the heroine’s rebound affair; the fiancee–does she have any idea what lover boy has been up to? If there’s a revolution, which sometimes there is, who is on which side?

And I must digress here and ponder the photograph in which Irene Adler and the King of Bohemia appeared, and how it was enough to throw the whole delicate balance of Europe into disarray. Was it, gasp, a naughty photograph? Is that why Holmes wanted to keep it, to while away the long hours when Watson was tending to his mostly neglected patients?

Anyway, let’s talk about dreams. Have you dreamed things that have happened? Do you dream about characters when you’re reading or writing a book? Do you recognize “my” plot?

In this special All Contests All The Time edition, there’s still a few days to enter the contest on my site, and a new one where I ask for help in vampire terminology at Supernatural Underground. Also you can enter to win a copy of Jane and the Damned at Goodreads.

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