Growing up, Kat Ross has always been a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Inspired by Doyle's books and her love for the unexplained, she weaved a mystery series of her own. Set against the backdrop of a gritty 1888 New York, The Daemoniac, is a book that keeps readers at the edge of their seats until the very last page. As our author of the day, Ross chats about her fascination with Doyle, everything Victorian and how she combats procrastination.
Please give us a short introduction to The Daemoniac.
In five words: Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files. I've been a huge fan of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories since I was a kid, so I knew I wanted to write a twist on the Holmes canon with a female lead and an American setting. I thought it would be fun to make Doyle a minor character in the book and the more I read about his life, the more it inspired the plot itself. He was an avid Spiritualist and member of the venerated Ghost Club in London, but he steadfastly avoided any hint of the supernatural in the Holmes stories. Take "The Hound of the Baskervilles," probably his most famous novella. The ancestral curse! The hound from hell! Of course, the solution to the puzzle turns out to be much more mundane. But I loved that dynamic and wanted to write something that left readers wondering a little at the end. Do you take the side of the rational explanation? Or do you prefer the darker, occult solution?
What drew you to start this series and did you know right from the start you wanted to make it into a series?
I did want to keep it going as a series from the beginning. I fell in love with the characters right away and have a million ideas for future books. Writing mysteries is so much fun, like designing a precise piece of clockwork or putting on a magic show. It's all the art of misdirection. The other nice thing about a mystery series is that readers can dive in at any point. Each book is a standalone. I'm just completing the third installment in an epic fantasy trilogy and that's a whole other beast in terms of plotting.
Why did you pick 1888 New York as the backdrop for your story?
Well, two real events occurred that year, both rather infamous and quite different but which play significant parts in The Daemoniac. The first was the blizzard of 1888, which effectively shut down the entire Eastern Seaboard. New York City was devastated. More than 200 people died and thousands were stranded on the elevated train lines. The second was the Ripper killings in Whitechapel, which began on August 31st and tie into the story at the end. Finally, "A Study in Scarlet," the very first Sherlock Holmes tale, had just been published the year before, which worked perfectly. So that pinned down the precise year for me. But the late Victorian period as a whole is endlessly fascinating. New York was on the verge of becoming the modern city it is today, with skyscrapers and telephones and electricity, but it also still had horse-drawn omnibuses and gas lamps and Wild West lawlessness in many areas.
What inspired you to use black magic and the belief in demonic possession as themes in your book?
In my preliminary reading, I ran across an organization called the Society for Psychical Research (which still exists today). A light went on and I knew my detective, Harrison Fearing Pell, aspired to work for them as a debunker of spiritual phenomena, but she had to prove herself by solving a case first. Naturally, it would involve the occult somehow. Harry is a diehard rationalist but her sidekick, John Weston, believes anything, so they have a Scully/Mulder dynamic that I think lightens it up a bit. The central question in the story is whether they're dealing with a madman or a man possessed. And that theme continues in the next book, The Thirteenth Gate. So I also thought it would be fun to make the cover of The Daemoniac look like an old grimoire, which is a major element of the plot.
You manage to create a dark, haunting atmosphere in the book, what are some tricks you used in order to create this atmosphere?
Thank you! I don't know if I'd call them tricks exactly, but I've learned pretty much everything I know from reading other wonderful authors like Caleb Carr. The Alienist, which is a literary thriller set in New York in the 1890s, seamlessly weaves together real-life history and characters with a truly terrifying murder mystery. Carr's New York City—in all its Gilded Age extremes of wealth and poverty—is a character in itself, and I tried to emulate that in The Daemoniac. Almost all the settings are real places and so are some of the secondary characters, like Nellie Bly and John Chamberlain.
Tell us a bit more about Harry - how was she "born" in your mind and what makes her so special?
Ah, Harry! Yes, I had to think about her quite a bit to get it right. The thing about the Holmes stories is that they're narrated by Dr. Watson, who's a normal human being. I can't imagine them working at all if they were narrated by Holmes himself. What reader could relate to him? And yet I wanted my story to be first-person from Harry's point of view. So I finally decided that Harry's older sister Myrtle is in fact the genius (just as Mycroft Holmes is supposed to be even more brilliant than Sherlock). Harry's extremely bright but not superior or infallible. If anything, she's self-effacing and struggling to escape her sister's shadow. Then there's the question of trying to operate independently as a young woman in the 1880s. I take a fairly light hand with that, but Harry does run into plenty of danger and prejudice based on her sex.
How much research did this book require from you? And what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Quite a lot! It was all so interesting, it barely felt like work. I grew up in New York and it amazes me how little the city has actually changed over the last century. My most indispensable source was Lights and Shadows of New York Life by James D. McCabe, Jr., written in 1872. The subtitle is: "With full and graphic accounts of its splendors and wretchedness; its high and low life; its marble palaces and dark dens; its mysteries and its crimes." Perfection! There were so many colorful characters from that period, like Billy McGlory, the dance hall owner who tolerated anything except for a customer actually getting murdered inside his establishment. Just over the threshold to the street was all right, though.
Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you
I've started haunting flea markets and library sales in search of used books about the Victorian era, which I then hoard in towering stacks around my bedroom. I especially love the ones with pictures!
I adore mysteries of all stripes: cozy, English, procedural, forensics, historical, psychological…yeah, pretty much all of them. They keep me turning pages in a way other genres usually don't. Even if I'm not crazy about the characters or story, I have to know who did it.
I'm distantly related to Wyatt Earp. Not necessarily proud of this fact, just saying.
Tell us a bit about your writing habits. Are you a disciplined writer? Where and when do you prefer to write?
Afternoons and anywhere but at the desk in my office! For some reason, I tend to procrastinate horribly at home. So I usually hang out at my little local library to write. Once a week I go to the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street (the one with the lions) and it's just majestic in there. I love the smell of dusty old books and the chandeliers and hushy-hush atmosphere.
What is the first thing you do when you start with a new book?
I do a lot of staring into space and then madly scribbling in spiral notebooks. Outlining is a major part of my process. I'm definitely not a pantser, although I admire people who can pull that off. It's basically a question of when do you want to do more work? At the beginning in the planning stage? Or at the end, cleaning up an unwieldy beast of a draft? Personally, I prefer the beginning. And I can't imagine pantsing a mystery. It's just too complex!
How do you manage to finish one book when the idea for the next keeps nagging at the back of your head?
I don't even go there. I usually know what's coming next, but I don't think about it until I finish my current project. Trust me, I'm scattered enough already.
What are you working on right now?
So I'm finishing up Queen of Chaos, which concludes a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Persia. That releases in January 2017 and then I can turn to The Thirteenth Gate, which is a sequel to The Daemoniac. I call this new series Dominion Mysteries because it does have supernatural elements that tie into my other books. I'm imagining them as a genre-mashup, something a little different, which I personally always enjoy.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I absolutely love hearing from fans! I can be reached by email at [email protected], or through any of the following social links. My Tumblr page in particular is devoted to weird Victoriana and people/places/things related to The Daemoniac.