Interview with 'Brimstone' John Allen: 'Anyone can be a writer. All one needs to do is write a million words.'

John Allen was born in Long Beach, CA. An engineer “by education, training, and experience,” he describes himself as “a recovering engineer.”  He left engineering to become the junior partner in Allen & Allen Semiotics Inc., a corporation that his wife, Lynn, launched for their diversified home business. Their projects include designing databases for mid-sized companies. John Allen holds a BS from the United States Air Force Academy, an MS from the University of Southern California, and an MA from the University of California, Riverside.

You can visit his website at

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?

A: It began all the way back in the 1980's when I read an essay by Martin Gardner entitled The Irrelevance of Arthur Conan Doyle. Gardner, a renowned skeptic, argued that Arthur Conan Doyle could not have created Sherlock Holmes because Arthur was so gullible, being fooled by every cheap medium and fraudster of his day. Gardner failed to identify an alternative author, so I took that task on myself. Some thirty years later, I published Shadow Woman: The True Creator of Sherlock Holmes. In that book, I present my evidence that it was Louise Conan Doyle, Arthur's first wife, who created Sherlock Holmes and wrote the early adventures. The Louise Conan Doyle mystery series is an outgrowth of that first effort to bring long overdue attention to that remarkable woman. Brimstone is the first book in the planned series of twelve.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

A: For me it was particularly difficult to write Brimstone, since I first had to learn to write fiction. (I'm more comfortable writing essays and non-fictional books.) It took me five years to complete Brimstone, and the current version is the result of my third complete re-write. I'm quite proud of that book.

With respect to any tips I have for budding writers, I will simply relay one that I learned from an essay by Jerry Pournelle, the sci-fi writer. Anyone can be a good writer. All one needs to do is write a million words. In my case, I suspect he missed by half. I'm approaching the two million word mark. I'll leave it to others to determine whether or not I've become a good writer.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

A: Lynn, my wife of 22 years, launched a home business designing custom databases while I continued to bring in the legal tender in conventional nine-to-five fashion. After she doubled the income of our home venture three years in a row, she taught me how to program databases. I then left my engineering job to join Allen & Allen Semiotics, Inc. as the junior partner. When I began writing books on wrongful conviction, my other avocation, Lynn expanded A&A to include book publishing, teaching herself that skill as well. As I've improved my writing craft, she's improved her publishing craft. Brimstone is simply a beautiful book.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

A: Forbes magazine published an article in 2013 explaining that, even then, there were somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 new books published each year in the U.S. alone. It was a bit of a harsh realization that I would literally be one in a million trying to get the public to look at my new book. We are undeterred though. We have a quality product based on a timely revelation of a woman finally getting credit for her work. We're pretty confident a large number of people will indeed take a look at Brimstone, Book 1 in the Louise Conan Doyle Mystery Series.

Q: What other books are you working on and when will they be published?

A. I'm 80% complete with Book 2 in the series, and that one is called Gambit. Lynn and I, you might have noticed, have settled on two syllable, single word titles. Gambit will be published later this year. I have already outlined Book 3, and that will be called Ember. I hope that Ember will be ready late this year or early next year.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

A. Brimstone and the other books are filled with tricky secret references, buried for the clever reader to find. The story can be read and enjoyed without this extra detective work on the part of the reader, but the allusions are there parallel to the ones found in Sherlock Holmes.

When she wrote the adventures, the real Louise Conan Doyle embedded a large number of allusions in her stories, so many that they form a sub-text to the obvious Holmes adventure on the surface. In her subtext, Louise uses Holmes and Watson to make her case for the equality of all mankind.

To understand how difficult it might be to write in such allusionary fashion, I decided to incorporate allusions into each book in my Louise Conan Doyle mystery series. I now find that it is not difficult at all to include allusions. What I still can't do is incorporate them anywhere near as well as Louise did, and I can't come close to forming them into a coherent sub-text.

The bottom line is that there are numerous allusions in Brimstone for people to discover or overlook. Some are obvious. Some are completely opaque to anyone other than the author.

Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

A: A mystery writer's prime directive is to provide the readers with an intriguing mystery that will be investigated by an interesting personality, and I believe I have done that. Beyond that prime directive, I have two other hopes. First, I hope that the public will began to recognize Louise Hawkins Conan Doyle for her work and her brilliance. Second, I hope that the readers will become more aware of the problem of wrongful conviction. Each plot in the Louise Conan Doyle mystery series is based on an actual wrongful conviction from today's America transported back to Victorian England. In the Author's Note at the end of each book, I explain the relationship.

Inside the Book


Author: John Allen
Publisher: Allen & Allen Semiotics Inc.
Pages: 224
Genre: Historical Fiction/Women Sleuths/Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Author John Allen has a theory about the creator of Sherlock Holmes:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not create Holmes. It was Doyle’s wife, Louise Hawkins Conan Doyle, who gave birth to the beloved sleuth.

Allen has put his beliefs to the test, writing and publishing the first of a projected 12-novel series of Holmes mysteries titled BRIMSTONE. His detective is Louise Hawkins Conan Doyle, and Allen names her as the author of the tale he presents, set in 1879 Bristol, England.

In a previous book, SHADOW WOMAN, Allen set out to prove that Louise was the true creator of Sherlock Holmes. The inspiration for his startling and controversial theory of authorship was a 1980s essay by Martin Gardner called “The Irrelevance of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Gardner claimed that Arthur was “too gullible and to easily duped to have created Sherlock Holmes.”

Allen determined that Gardner was correct, but Gardner identified no alternative author. Allen continues, “So I decided to give it a try. I came to suspect Louise as the actual author, but I lacked the knowledge and tools to make a solid case.”

Then the Internet came along, giving Allen a valuable research tool. He became convinced that Louise did in fact create Sherlock Holmes. Allen presented his case in SHADOW WOMAN, which was published in 2017. To further advance Louise as Holmes’s creator, to give her the credit he believes she is due, he is now featuring her in a series of mystery novels, the first of which is BRIMSTONE.

As if Allen hadn’t set the bar too high already, he has added a subtext to BRIMSTONE that explores contemporary wrongful convictions through his Victorian thrillers.

BRIMSTONE brims with appeal to multiple audiences, from lovers of detective stories to those interested in justice for the wrongfully convicted. Sherlock Holmes would be proud.



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