Interview with Win Scott Eckert
August 26, 2009

For over thirty years, readers have marveled at Philip José Farmer’s inventive integration of popular fiction and literature’s most beloved characters, in a mythical web known as the Wold Newton Family. First described in the fictional biographies Tarzan Alive: The Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, Farmer expanded his Wold Newton mythos in novels such as The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, Time's Last Gift, Hadon of Ancient Opar, Flight to Opar, The Dark Heart of Time: A Tarzan Novel, and Escape from Loki: Doc Savage's First Adventure.

The Evil in Pemberley House, an addition to the Wold Newton cycle, plays with the Gothic horror tradition. Patricia Wildman, the daughter of the world-renowned adventurer and crimefighter of the 1930s and ’40s, Dr. James Clarke “Doc” Wildman, is all alone in the world when she inherits the family estate in Derbyshire, England— old, dark, and supposedly haunted.
But Farmer, characteristically, turns convention on its ear. Is the ghost real, or a clever sham? In Patricia Wildman, Farmer creates an introspective character who struggles to reconcile the supernatural with her rational scientific upbringing, while also attempting to work through unresolved feelings about her late parents. He sets the action at Pemberley from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and ingrains the various mysteries in the Canon of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Evil in Pemberley House is a darkly erotic novel with broad appeal to readers of pulp and popular literature, particularly followers of Doc Savage, Sherlockians, and fans of Farmer's own celebrated Wold Newton Family.

Q: Can you tell us something how you got involved in writing The Evil in Pemberley House? How and why did Phil and Bette give you the permission to finish the novel? Next to Phil's original material, did you have to do additional research before you could write it?

Win Scott Eckert: I can still recall the day Mike Croteau and I were in Phil’s basement, July 4, 2005. It was the first time I met Phil and Bette, and I was invited to come meet them on very short notice. The Farmers very generously invited me to stay with them for the one night I was there. I was allowed to help Mike go through some files in his never-ending quest for more material suitable for Farmerphile, and we found a file labeled “The Evil in Pemberley House.”
Of course that triggered thoughts of Pride and Prejudice and the Darcys, whom Phil had identified as progenitors of his Wold Newton Family of heroic characters. Then I opened the file and read the first line on the first page: “A nightmare, Patricia thought.” Well, there goes Phil with the “Patricia” name again, I thought to myself. Pat Savage was Doc Savage’s cousin in the original pulps, and Phil had used a name variant for Pat’s analogue in the Doc Caliban novels, Trish Wilde. I was intrigued and excited, flipping rapidly through the rest of the manuscript. Patricia had bronze skin and gold-flecked eyes. Her father was a famous surgeon and crimefighter. He ran a “college” for treating criminals in upstate New York.
I don’t recall much after that. There was probably a lot of whooping and jumping around. Phil and Bette, upstairs, probably wondered what the hell was happening in their basement. Mike Croteau, whom I had also just met for the first time, probably thought I was crazy. I didn’t care.

I had a track record of short fiction, and Phil and Bette were pleased with my anthology Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, so when we discussed it, they seemed pleased to give me a crack at finishing the book. It was never a slam dunk that they’d allow publication; I regularly submitted chapters for their feedback and approval, and the message was: “keep going.” So I did!

As far as extra research goes, it was immense. The discovery of Patricia Wildman led directly to my Farmerphile piece “Doc Wildman: Out of Time,” which reconciled her with Doc’s other (non-canonical) children from DC Comics and so forth. Many other aspects of the Pemberley House manuscript and associated materials led to massive amounts of research to reconcile aspects of the family tree described therein with the established trees in the “fictional biographies” Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.
Particularly, Patricia had to be the sole inheritor of Pemberley House, or else the plot was gutted. Ensuring this was much more difficult than it might sound, especially when you consider something as complex as the Wold Newton Family. And it seemed like every time I recalled another family member to be dealt with and closed the loop, another came to my attention. Just to provide one fun example, I thought I had long ago accounted for and dealt with all members of the Family. Then, somewhat late in the game, I was reminded that I hadn’t accounted for Sir Beowulf Clayton, Bt., from Phil’s The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. Under the laws of inheritance, he could take both the estate and the title. Fortunately, the chronology worked so that I could kill him off without violating anything in Other Log, and I promptly did so in an End Note. Problem—one of many—solved. Sorry, Sir Beowulf—and Phil!
For my own amusement, I also kept track of additions to the Wold Newton Family made by folks other than Phil, who could possibly inherit, and then came up with reasons why they weren’t named in the book. I also did extensive research on British peerage titles and how they do and don’t pass on, and created a spot for Bess of Pemberley in the extended family tree so that she could pass on the Curse—if there is a Curse!—to Patricia and other Wold Newton Family members.

Q: Have you any idea why Phil himself had not finished the novel?

Win: Phil and Bette and I discussed a lot about the book, but oddly enough we didn’t touch on that. I just assumed that, as with several others of his unfinished projects, something else just caught his attention or he ran out of time.

Q: You had written many essays and also some stories up until starting with The Evil in Pemberley House. So this is your first novel. Has it been difficult for you to write the novel, because you had to use the material Phil already had written or outlined? Can you tell us something about the “problems” you encountered writing the novel?

Win: To be honest, I didn’t find it that difficult at all. I didn’t feel at all constrained by Phil’s manuscript. Perhaps a difficult part was changing some aspects of the outline and the background to fit in with official Wold Newton continuity in his biographies and other novels. Where there was a conflict between the manuscript and notes, and what had already been published, I had to go with what had already been published.

I have some background in writing in others’ worlds, and with those constraints. I don’t dislike it; I enjoy the challenge. I’ve been fortunate enough to be recruited to write short stories for other characters, such as the classic pulp hero The Avenger, the newspaper comic strip hero The Phantom, as well as Zorro and The Green Hornet, but the difference is that although I was restricted—gladly restricted—to what was established regarding those characters and their histories, the plotlines and the words were mine. Whereas with Pemberley House, I had several chapters already written by Phil, his outline, his synopsis, and his handwritten notes from which to work (and a wholly established Wold Newton Universe in the background). Every scene in the outline appears in the finished book, and the initial chapters Phil wrote were sacrosanct. I made one or two word changes to his chapters, to synch up with already-published information in Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, and I also inserted a few paragraphs into a scene so as to better set up a later scene in the novel; again, the later scene was from his own outline. After Phil leaves off and I begin writing, you’ll still find plenty of him throughout the remainder of the book, as I imported his words and phrasing directly from the outline and synopsis into the final text.

The biggest “problem” I think I had was this: Phil’s manuscript ended mid-sentence. How would he have finished that sentence? We’ll never know. I had a tough time finishing that sentence. After I was finally able to do that, I was off and running.

And no, I’m not saying which sentence, or even the chapter in which it occurs <grin>.

It was an honor I can’t begin to describe, being allowed to play in Phil’s world.

Q: The main character of The Evil in Pemberley House is Patricia Wildman, daughter of the pulp hero Doc Savage. Does this mean that this is a pulp novel? Online I saw this description: “A darkly erotic Jane Austen-Pulp Fiction-Sherlockian-Gothic-Wold Newton mashup.” What do we have to expect with such a novel?

Win: I have a great love for the adventure and hero pulps, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Shadow, The Spider, and was inspired by Phil’s Wold Newton Family mythos to seek these out.
Likewise, Phil is responsible for the fact that I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and great admirer of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories. I love Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries and Chandler’s and Hammett’s hard-boiled detective fiction, which came out of the pulps. And of course the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels of Tarzan, John Carter, and Pellucidar. I’m very fond of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, which also started in the pulps.
I could go on and on about all the characters I’ve read and know and love, but we don’t have enough room.

That said, I don’t think Pemberley House reads like a pulp novel. Although the protagonist, Patricia Wildman, is cast as the daughter of a famous pulp crimefighter, the novel was not intended to pastiche the stylings of pulp novels of the 1930s or ’40s. My goal, ever-present in my mind as I wrote, was to emulate Phil’s style as much as possible. Part of this came naturally through osmosis, I hope, as the result of 35 years of reading and rereading Phil’s works. Part of it was conscious, particularly in scenes where Patricia questions and debates herself in internal monologues. I don’t think you’d find much of that sort of self-examination in classic pulp adventure novels; it’s an aspect peculiar to Phil. Although of course my prose cannot equal Phil’s, whether or not I captured the feel and style of Phil Farmer’s writing isn’t for me to say, it’s up to the readers. I certainly hope I did.

So, what to expect? The book was not intended to pastiche pulp writing, despite Patricia’s origins. The novel definitely plays with the Gothic horror tradition: young woman, all alone in the world, leaves her old life behind and inherits an old, dark, and supposedly haunted estate. Lots of lightning and thunder ensue. But Phil, typically, turns convention on its ear: is the ghost real, or a fake-up? He adds in a genealogical mystery to be solved. He gives us an introspective character who has daddy issues, although she can kick ass like her father. He adds in sex. Then, on top of all that, he sets it at Pemberley House from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and ingrains the various mysteries deeply in the mythos of the Sherlock Holmes stories! Only Phil Farmer could toss all those elements together and make them work.

Q: What can we expect with “erotic” in this novel? Will this be as graphic as A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast, and Blown? Didn’t you mind writing the erotic parts?

Win: I admit that aspect was daunting at first. The sexual content starts on page one, there’s no escaping it! I wrestled with it for a while, and discussed it extensively with the Farmers. In the end, as I continued to review the plot, and then fleshed out the outline for Phil and Bette’s final approval before beginning to write in earnest, I concluded that the sex scenes were inextricably tied to Phil’s plot. Plus, in the intervening time I had tested myself by writing a short story with some graphic sexual content, “Les Lèvres Rouges” (Tales of the Shadowmen: Danse Macabre, Black Coat Press, 2007). With Phil and Bette’s blessing, I proceeded to write the novel with the sex scenes as originally outlined by Phil. In my opinion, the scenes in Pemberley House are not as graphic as those Phil wrote in A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast, and Blown. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I’ll let the readers decide. Phil’s other Gothic, Love Song, also has a lot of explicit sex. It’s a special favorite of mine and it certainly served as an inspiration while I was writing.

I have noted with amusement some recent reviews that have an overtone of shock regarding the sex and violence in Pemberley House. Phil, wherever he is, is laughing his ass off, and Bette is saying, “Oh, Phil!”

Q: The novel is clearly linked to the Wold Newton Universe. Does this mean that it is only of interest to fans and followers of this mythology? Can the novel be read without any knowledge of the Wold Newton Universe?

Win: This book is definitely part of Phil’s Wold Newton cycle; not only is it intrinsically connected to the fictional biographies, but there are also elements which hinge on the events of Phil’s Sherlock Holmes-Tarzan crossover The Adventure of the Peerless Peer. There are crossover references to many of Phil’s other novels, including The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, Escape from Loki: Doc Savage’s First Adventure, the Khokarsa cycle, Time’s Last Gift, and a couple from The Dark Heart of Time: A Tarzan Novel, one of which is one of those beautifully synchronous links that you can’t really make up, the Universe just hands it to you; there are more, including references and nods to non-PJF works. See if you can find them all!

That said, and admitting that there is a lot of backstory to the Wold Newton Universe, the novel is written as a standalone, and any necessary background information is provided to the reader. The reader doesn’t need, I think, any more prior knowledge than did first-time readers of Phil’s The Other Log of Phileas Fogg or his Khokarsa books—and those books are very readable without any prior knowledge of the novels from which they sprung.

As with any Phil Farmer book, there are many references, winks, and nods there for the reader who catches them. The trick is not to allow crossover references and other metafictional connections to overwhelm the story. The story and characters come first, and any metafiction needs to fit in seamlessly as part of the narrative, without distraction. This can result in a large-scale, long-term effort to place clues, drop references, and build foundations over the course of several stories, in order to construct a holistic mythology. As it happens, this is exactly what I did with The Evil in Pemberley House.

Some of my stories from the Tales of the Shadowmen anthologies, “The Eye of Oran” and “Les Lèvres Rouges,” can be read as standalone prequels to Pemberley House; the tales are certainly not required reading, but they contribute to the larger backstory. Likewise, when writing my story for The Avenger Chronicles, “Death and the Countess,” I slipped in a subtle line which connects to a minor bit in Pemberley House. It’s like assembling a puzzle over the course of several years. You hope readers will go back and read your stuff again, and see the larger connectivity that they missed the first time around. Just like we do with Phil’s work!

Q: Are there any plans to write sequels to The Evil in Pemberley House?

Win: As far as continuing Patricia’s adventures, well, that assumes Patricia survives The Evil in Pemberley House... You never know with Phil!
Seriously, I think Patricia has a lot of potential as a character and would love, with the appropriate permissions, to write more of her, as she comes into her own and takes up her father’s legacy of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers around the world.
I do have some thoughts on how a Patricia Wildman series could connect on a very deep level to the mythology in Phil’s other novels, including Escape from Loki, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, and, perhaps a few others which might be surprising. But at this time there are no firm plans.

Thanks for the interview, Win!
I am looking forward to the novel.
More fiction by Win can be found in the following books.

Tales of the Shadowmen - vol. 1

Tales of the Shadowmen - vol. 2

Tales of the Shadowmen - vol. 3

The Avenger

© Zacharias L.A. Nuninga -- Page last updated: 30 Nov 2011