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Interview With an Author: Beth Bernobich

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Beth Bernobich

Beth Bernobich is the award-winning author of dozens of short stories and a number of SF/F novels, including the epic fantasy series River of Souls, and the alternate history novel, The Time Roads. She has an undergraduate degree in German, including a year abroad at Heidelberg Universität. In addition to her fiction, she has a thirty-plus year career in software development, with projects ranging from applied cryptography to custom web applications. She currently lives in Connecticut with her family and two idiosyncratic cats. Her latest novel, A Study in Honor, was written as Claire O'Dell, and it is the beginning of a new SF mystery series, The Janet Watson Chronicles. Ms. Bernobich recently agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was the inspiration for A Study in Honor?

I told Jim Hines that this book was all his fault. Around four years ago, he wrote a blog post about experimenting with fanfic. I'd never felt the urge to write any myself, but after reading how he found the experience so engaging, I decided to try some.

I picked Watson and Holmes, because I've always enjoyed the stories. I set the story in DC because I grew up in the area. And because I always thought Watson deserved to take center stage, I made Janet Watson the central character. Her struggles with PTSD, with the loss of her arm in the war, with the struggle to reconstruct her life are at the heart of A Study in Honor.

A number of the key characters are clearly based on Doyle’s characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories. Are any of the supporting characters inspired or based on specific individuals?

A few, yes. Jacob Bell is Janet's good friend from the service, who introduces her to Sara Holmes at the National Gallery of Art. Jenna Hudson runs the Georgetown real estate company that leases Holmes and Watson their apartment 2B on 2809Q Street. And a certain other character has the same last name as "The Woman", though her relationship to Sara Holmes is very different from the canon.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

The most significant changes I made were to swap out Hilary Clinton as President for a fictional one, and to move the time period from 2024 to an indeterminate later year. After the book sold in 2017, I added more references to recent events as part of the backstory, but the main plot and characters didn't change at all.

Why did you choose to publish A Study in Honor under the pseudonym Claire O’Dell (especially since you have other novels published under your name?)

I had several reasons for using a pen name, the top one being that my Janet Watson books are very different from my previous fantasy and alternate histories stories. More recently, however, I've decided to stick with Claire for all my work. (And I will probably re-release my epic fantasy trilogy as Claire.) Having just the pen name is simpler to keep track of, not the mention, Claire O'Dell is easier to spell and pronounce.☺

Do you have a favorite of the original Sherlock Holmes stories?

The Hound of the Baskervilles. I remember seeing the Basil Rathbone film, and I quite enjoyed that, but the novel itself is even better. Holmes & Watson, a mysterious curse, mist-shrouded moorland…It's all unapologetically gothic.

Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche, television or motion picture adaptation/interpretation?

My favorite—hands down—is Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald. Not only does he blend all the right elements from Doyle's Holmes and Lovecraft's Cthulhu, the reader eventually realizes the characters are not exactly who you thought at first.

Though I've heard good things about Elementary and the BBC Sherlock series, I've avoided them so far because I didn't want any accidental influence, but next year I want to dive into both.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

A re-read of Darlene Marshall's Castaway Dreams, Martha Wells's Rogue Protocol in her Murderbot series, and Dead Mountain, by Donnie Eichar.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

That's a hard one. Jane Eyre? David Copperfield?

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

All of them? Okay, to pick one—Catch-22. My siblings are ten and more years older than me, and they would bring books home from college, which I would then surreptitiously borrow. Occasionally my mother would catch me out and deliver a lecture about the inappropriate subject matter. Somehow the lectures never took.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

In alphabetical order: Jane Austen, Octavia Butler, Ellen Kushner, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Courtney Milan

What is a book you've faked reading?

I don't do that, actually. I have books that I acknowledge as masterpieces, that I couldn't get into, but I don't see a point in pretending.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Lisa Mantchev's Eyes Like Stars. I knew the author, yes, and already loved her work, but that cover simply blew me away.

Is there a book that changed your life?

This is terrible of me to say, but no. There are books that have influenced me, books that have brought me joy, but none that have changed my life.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Would a series count? Because I want everyone to read Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. I love, love, love O'Brian's depiction of Jack and Stephen's friendship that grows and strains and then deepens over the years. I adore the humor—the puns, Jack's terrible attempts at speaking other languages, all the sloths and apes and bees that Stephen insists on bringing onto the ship.
But there's more than humor. There's tragedy, betrayal, deep loyalty, breath-taking prose…
*takes a breath*
I better stop and just say: Everyone really needs to read these books.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. I almost can't bear to read it again because so many parts leave me in tears, but I would love to experience all the details—the strange, the tragic, the magical—unfolding for the first time.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Paris, with my husband. A cloudless September day, walking along the Seine on our way to a creperie.

What are you working on now?

At this moment I'm in between projects. Last week, I handed in the sequel to A Study in Honor to my editor. The title is The Hound of Justice, and it's coming out next July from Harper Voyager. (And I'm bursting with excitement about Janet and Sara's new adventure.)

Up next are the edits for the first book in my new epic fantasy series, A Jewel-Bright Sea. Pirates, magic, multiple lives. Occasional goats.

A Study in Honor
O'Dell, Claire,

Beth Bernobich, writing under the pseudonym of Claire O’Dell, takes the familiar tropes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson and transforms them into something completely new: the main protagonists are now queer women of color, their base of operations is Georgetown and the setting is a frighteningly familiar U.S. struggling to survive another civil war being fought between the extremists of the left and the right. The result is a compelling story with rich, well drawn characters in a world that is all too believable. This is a must read for both Holmes fans and anyone interested in a gripping story of self-discovery.