Tony Pi, Author of “Dynamics of a Hanging”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“Dynamics of a Hanging” is a Doctor Watson tale, taking place shortly after the presumed death of Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. To break the cipher on Moriarty’s notes, Watson must enlist the aid of Lewis Carroll to learn about the Professor’s shady past, and his surprising connection to a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I was always intrigued by Professor Moriarty and his shrouded past, and wanted to write a story that featured a younger Moriarty. As a mathematician, he might have crossed paths with Reverend Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll; Carroll, who was also a writer, might have known Arthur Conan Doyle. Finally, a book on the science behind hangings gave me the crime that tied them all together.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Yes, in part because I chose to stick as closely to actual historical details whenever possible, especially when it came to Doyle and Dodgson. My first challenge was picking the right time period to set the story, since some clues wouldn’t have existed yet. Then it took a lot of research to make sure that the timelines for the historical personages worked.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

My story flashes back to the young Arthur Conan Doyle, in the midst of his medical training and first forays into fiction-writing. When I was writing this story, I felt a strong connection to Doyle because I was also trying to break into professional writing while doing something else (teaching linguistics). As it turned out, this was the first short story I ever sold.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The book that sparked the title and the crime was Lord High Executioner: An Unashamed Look at Hangsmen, Headsmen, and their Kind (Key Porter Books, 1996), which provided the mathematics behind hangings. I also did much research into code-breaking and the lives of Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll. Once I knew the story would take place in 1879 Aston, England, I did a virtual location scout for the right place to hang someone, which was far from easy! Thankfully, I was very lucky to track down exactly what I needed in the historical records online.

What is the appeal of Sherlock Holmes fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I think Holmes fiction has a universal appeal that engages the imagination, no matter what language you speak. I first fell in love with Holmes stories as a kid in Taiwan, reading them in Chinese, and when I immigrated to Canada and started learning English, one of my first books was the Complete Sherlock Holmes. I still cherish that copy today.

The characters are also easy to identify with. The reader can either sit back and be amazed by Holmes’ deductive reasoning, like the faithful Doctor Watson, or match wits with the brilliant but eccentric Holmes by trying to solve the mystery first. For me, writing a pastiche gives me a chance to pay tribute to a body of work that has entertained and inspired me for years.

What are some of your favorite examples of Sherlock Holmes fiction (either original Doyle works or contemporary works), and what makes them your favorites?

I have some favourites from the original adventures that have stuck with me throughout the years: “Silver Blaze,” “The Red-Headed League,” “The Six Napoleons,” and especially “The Dancing Men,” which sparked my interest in cryptography. How can you not love the idea of secrets hidden in drawings of tiny men waving flags?

Among the contemporary works, I am a fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice et al.), and appreciate her giving Holmes a satisfying life beyond simple beekeeping in Sussex Downs.