Becoming Sherlock by Elizabeth Eulberg
When I was in elementary school, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown, Harriet the Spy, and Nancy Drew novels. I enjoyed going along on a case with these pint-sized detectives and trying to figure out “who done it?”
Oddly enough, I wasn’t really into Sherlock Holmes. Sure, I was familiar with the Baker Street detective and his sidekick, Dr. Watson. But I wasn’t interested in the books. Maybe it was because they were boring old adults. Or I didn’t really understand how Sherlock’s mind work. Or maybe it was because I was a little annoyed that when my elementary school did a Sherlock Holmes musical, I was relegated to the choir since there weren’t any major roles for girls. (And okay, the fact that my brother was cast as Sherlock Holmes may have something to do with it.)
But all of that changed when I sat down to watch the BBC series, Sherlock. Within ten minutes, I was struck by Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. I suddenly “got” the appeal – how Sherlock Holmes can make deductions because he can see things others don’t. Oh, and how he has the manners and temperament of a small, spoiled child. It was then that I thought, “I want to write Sherlock Holmes as a nine-year-old girl.”
I became hooked on all things Sherlock. I read the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Ransom Riggs (yes, THAT Ransom Riggs), Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova, just to name a few. Plus, it didn’t stop there, because I had to BECOME as good at deductive reasoning as my Sherlock, Shelby Holmes. So I read books and did research on forensics, forensic psychology, and crime scene investigation. (And, of course, I had to re-watch BBC’s Sherlock and the Basil Rathbone movies. Poor me.)
It was a lot of work, but it was FUN. I’d never written a mystery before, so I enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and plotting out the case. I usually have a basic outline when I sit down and write a book, but not for The Great Shelby Holmes. I had to know every red herring and clue that would be discovered. And, most importantly, how Shelby could draw the crazy conclusions that she does.
It’s at this point that I should mention that I am in no way as smart as Shelby Holmes. So when she makes these seemingly easy deductions, which might be a sentence or two in the book, it has taken me days to figure out how to get her there. At one point in the editing process, my editor (the fabulous Cat Onder) wanted more of these observations because she found them a lot of fun. Yep, they are fun. FOR THE READER. (And, okay, for the author as well.) But those little deductions and clues became a mystery that I needed to crack.
First, I’d figure out what Shelby needed to figure out about a person or a clue. For instance, in The Great Shelby Holmes, when the dog trainer of the missing dog shows up, I needed Shelby to discover that he was lying about where he was for the last couple of days. I decided to give him a sunburn so she knew he was somewhere in the sun. Problem was, the book takes place in the summer, so that couldn’t be the only clue. So I decided to put him at a resort in a tourist place. But how could Shelby know exactly where he was? I started researching different vacation places and if there were any stones that were specific to certain regions. Lo and behold, black coral is found in Cozumel, Mexico; Hawaii; and New Zealand. So the trainer was wearing a black coral necklace when he arrived to the scene of the crime. (There’s also something else Shelby does to confirm her suspicions, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what!) Easy for Shelby, she figured it out in a couple minutes. It took me, however, a day to figure that out for her.
Knowing that I have at least two more books to write about The Great Shelby Holmes, I’ve become a lot like Sherlock. I now observe instead of simply seeing. I’ll stop my friends and point out things that I notice: “That woman has a small lap dog, you can tell by the hair on her skirt.” Luckily, I haven’t picked up Shelby’s prickly temperament. Yet!
It’s been a blast writing these books and going back to the kind of stories that I loved as a kid. Plus, I’m learning a lot. I really advise that people don’t lie to me—I’m currently doing research on micro-facial expressions.
ELIZABETH EULBERG is not a detective (or so she claims). She is, however, the internationally bestselling author of The Lonely Hearts Club, Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, Better Off Friends, and We Can Work it Out. Elizabeth lives outside Manhattan, where she spends her free time stalking English bulldogs in her neighborhood and filling her brain attic with random pop-culture facts. The Great Shelby Holmes is her first middle-grade novel. You can find her online at www.elizabetheulberg.com and on Twitter @ElizEulberg.