Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is probably best remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The author penned dozens of stories about his eponymous character, published in The Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1905, and a novel entitled The Hound of the Baskervilles. But Holmes was only one small part of Sir Doyle’s prolific writing career. He published 50 books during his life, spanning such diverse genres as historical romance, science fiction, military history, and spiritualism. He was one of the most popular pulp fiction writers of his time, delighting readers with tales of mummies, dinosaurs, ghosts, and classic characters like Brigadier Gerard and Professor Challenger.

And then, on July 7th, 1930, he dropped dead.

Sir Doyle’s story is an all too familiar one. An author achieves prominence only to be struck down by the icy hand of death. Every year, hundreds of writers pass away, bringing their literary output to an abrupt halt. And after that, we can only guess. Sadly, there isn’t a religion or spiritual belief that addresses the fears that haunt most writers during the wee hours of the night. Namely, does death mean an end to the written word? When we leave this mortal coil, will we also be giving up books and all things book-related? Are earthly pleasures like writing and reading reserved solely for the living? The only person who could feasibly answer such unanswerable questions would be an actual dead author.

Someone like, say… Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This exclusive interview with Sir Doyle was conducted with the assistance of Arthur Pacheco, a psychic and trance medium from Hawaii. Pacheco has been regularly communicating with the dead for almost 20 years. Unlike many psychics, he goes into a trance and allows departed souls to speak directly through him, using their own voices and their own words. Mr. Pacheco purports to be on friendly terms with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has been his main “spirit guide” since the early 80s.

The following interview took place during several sessions over the course of six months. Sir Doyle – or “The Old Moustache,” as he frequently called himself – spoke with a thick British accent, and was prone to hearty laughter, often apropos of absolutely nothing.

I. “THE AVERAGE BOOKWORM OF EARTH WOULD BE IN HEAVEN INDEED TO SEE WHAT AWAITS HIM HERE.”

THE BELIEVER: Are there books in the afterlife?

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: Absolutely. One may continue to read in the disembodied state indeed. In fact, the possibilities for such activity are much more expanded than on earth; and our libraries here, for they exist, are of many different types. You go to some when you are seeking knowledge of the past, say, and to these you would think yourself into some time period to be able to view the truth about what actually happened, instead of just reading somebody else’s version of the same.

BLVR: So the living only have access to the fake history books, and we won’t get to read the real history books until we die?

ACD: Unfortunately, that is true. I am privileged to be able to access the Akashic Records, those indelible records of how things really were at any place in history, and the discrepancies one finds are amazing and at times appalling. To see how the news of events were deliberately changed to suit somebody can be a very sickening experience. Well, I used to think so when a new arrival anyway, but now I realize what a normal thing this is, to change the version of what really occurred to suit the king or the pope or the person in power who had most to lose, should the truth be accurately known. Now this is all old hat, and I’m surprised when it isn’t the case instead of when it is. I could go on and on, detailing all the topics and themes that I delightfully looked up once I realized this as a possibility here.

BLVR: I can only imagine. For a writer such as yourself, it must’ve seemed like paradise.

ACD: Oh, yes. When I first arrived here, and after the usual protocol of getting acquainted again with the reality of the spirit world, and seeing to it that whatever obligations I still felt were mine on earth were dealt with to the best of my ability, I did begin to investigate the options and possibilities open to me, to anyone really, and was I pleasantly surprised. To be able to go to this place called the Hall of Records in itself seemed too good to be true initially. But soon, when my awe had subsided a bit, I began to look into the possibilities therein, only to find that they were and are well-nigh unlimited. So yes, to specifically answer your question, there are indeed the pleasures of reading as on earth, but in a greatly enhanced arena. I would think that the average bookworm of earth, if such a creature exists, would be in heaven indeed to see what awaits him here.

BLVR: This Hall of Records sounds enticing. It’s got to be one of the afterlife’s biggest draws. But what about fiction? Do you read mostly novels written by your peers, or have you checked out anything by more modern authors?

ACD: I should say that what I myself prefer to peruse isn’t found in anything that my peers on earth would have or did write. They lived in a place and time as purblind as my own. Indeed, what could they ever have to say that can’t be found here and now in a much more expanded fashion? No, I must admit that I have found much more interesting material than anything on earth could provide for me.

BLVR: Is there anything you can’t find at this mythical library?

ACD: No. One can even go and read about oneself, even if on earth you may not be a famous personage. Imagine that! For instance, you yourself, Mr. Spitznagel, have quite a dossier on you and your activities, before, during, and after this interview.

BLVR: Seriously? Have you read it?

ACD: I only include this to illustrate how informed things and people tend to be here. And yet, this information isn’t to be relayed to the one it describes. Just because we can access such information isn’t to say that we are at liberty to reveal it to anyone on earth unless specific permission has been obtained.

BLVR: Can you just give me a few chapter titles? Back cover blurbs? Anything?

ACD: There is a way this can be done, but it usually entails circumstances that are far too complex to deal with in a communiqué like this. Furthermore, this isn’t the topic we’ve agreed to discuss herein, now is it?

II. “SO-CALLED DEAD PEOPLE REGULARLY PROVIDE HELP TO MANY ON EARTH.”

BLVR: Many authors have a difficult time letting go. Even long after our books are published, we’ll continue revising and editing our words, as if somehow just one more draft would make it perfect. Does that impulse disappear in the afterlife, or does it become stronger than ever, especially now that altering your books is simply no longer possible?

ACD: The answer must be a resounding yes. We, as erstwhile authors, do indeed experience the yearning to rewrite our works. But it isn’t so much a matter of rewriting our plots or storylines in more dramatic forms, as it is to rewrite our works in light of the vast amount of new information that we have gained about life itself and our roles in this Grand Play. It also includes the desire to be of greater service to one’s readers than merely to entertain them.

BLVR: So death gives you a perspective on the world that you didn’t have previously?

ACD: If so be it you suddenly awakened in a place where all things were new and better, and you were given the means to take on a completely new and enhanced education about all things, the meaning of life itself included, how would you apply this to anything that you had written? You see that in this case – and this is the case, believe me – you might not so much want to rewrite as to write anew, and in far more glowing terms than anything you might have left on earth. Indeed, I have shared this sentiment with a few others who also wrote on earth, and there is an all around agreement that we would write about much more meaningful subjects than much of what we left.

BLVR: I assume that writing in the conventional sense is no longer possible. Does it ever bother you that your literary career is completely behind you? You’ll never again know the pleasures of writing a new story, or creating a new character.

ACD: Many of my peers have gone on to higher ground and greater pursuits than any they followed on earth. I am not quite at liberty to go one by one and give you the details, but I can tell you that most people who chance to be authors in any given lifetime are usually given much help from this side of life from the authors already here.

BLVR: Wait a minute, are you saying what I think you’re saying? You’re telling me that living authors are being given writing advice from the afterlife?

ACD: That is exactly what I mean to tell you. So-called dead people regularly provide help to many on earth; though this help from heaven goes unnoticed for the most part. It is the same with just about any profession. In other words, doctors here, or those who were on earth, are the ones you can see at the sides of doctors on earth, oftimes whispering suggestions and directions. For statesmen, it is the same, accounting for the fact that many a current statesman or woman has a hero in the same field, usually their mentor. And on it goes. For instance, it may surprise you to know that my old friend Bram Stoker was actually being advised during the writing of his famous gothic novel Dracula. It might even more surprise you to hear me say that at the time that novel was written, there were still such cases to be found in central Europe.

BLVR: Cases? You mean vampires?

ACD: Vampires indeed! Not exactly as later films would always portray them, but the basic story lines being based more on truth than on fiction. He investigated the so-called legends of vampires as he prepared material for writing his famous novel, and was on the trail of the infamous Vlad the Impaler of medieval fame when it came to him that he had enough material accumulated.

BLVR: Let’s get back to this spiritual mentoring business. How exactly does that work? If you’re given creative guidance from the afterlife, does this mean you’re expected to return the favor when you die? You mentioned Bram Stoker. Is it safe to assume that he’s been collaborating with modern authors in the vampire genre? Somebody like, say, Anne Rice?

ACD: Ah, Anne Rice. I have been fascinated to watch how her story has unfolded. She was once alive as a member of a household that was terrorized by real vampires in Europe, and it is not only her subconscious memory of that life, but her current involvement in things not openly known that account for her involvement and the execution of her vampire novels today. Talk about good plot lines. Hers seem to hold together fairly well, don’t you think? Either she’s unusually clever, or she has someone, perhaps invisible, helping her. I think the latter is the case.

BLVR: So this spirit that’s advising her, I guess that would make him, in every sense of the word, a “ghost writer.”

(Long, uncomfortable silence.)

BLVR: I’m sorry, that was a terrible pun, wasn’t it?

(Another long, uncomfortable silence.)

III. “THE LAW OF NECESSITY DETERMINES WHAT RECEIVES PUBLICATION AND WHAT DOES NOT.”

BLVR: Along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, you’re often cited as one of the founding fathers of pulp fiction. Are you proud of your legacy, or do you wish it had more literary import?

ACD: I must admit that I really don’t quite know exactly what pulp fiction is. So to say that I am considered to be one of its originators is quite startling. But when I look to see what the authors you mentioned and myself have in common, I can only see a cord that runs from one to the other which allows for the tendency and ability to draw from the Unseen World a drama or story line that is not based on fact to be sure, and therefore would have to be considered fiction, and yet it almost purports to be something quite believable and possibly actual. I am left to speculate that what we all have in common is the ability, nay the tendency, to go in a direction that is at once more fanciful than the average writer might venture into, and yet has its plot to be discovered eventually, which usually proves that the unlikely may yet be the very truth of the matter.

BLVR: What do you think of modern pulp writers, like Stephen King? Are you impressed with where your literary heirs have taken it, or slightly underwhelmed?

ACD: I am impressed with the lot. I would say that those currently embodied and writing are as trusting as we were, to venture forth into unknown territories, and not as concerned with how their works shall be accepted as that they could write what their souls are experiencing as a phase of their own evolutionary journey. So far be it from me to speak in terms of being a critic, literary or otherwise, but it is not lost upon me that there are always hurdles and challenges to be overcome by any who essay to reach and possibly teach the public at large. And as such, and as a writer of yore, I can only feel a certain sense of solidarity with these intrepid souls and wish them the best. Since arriving here, I am now very much more aware of a type of Law of Necessity that is what determines what receives publication and what does not. It is what the public most has need to read next that is what determines what gets accepted by publishers, though these individuals are often the last to know this.

BLVR: In other words, if an author doesn’t get his or her book into print, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t good. It may simply be that the universe has other publishing plans?

ACD: In a sense, yes.

BLVR: Well, that’s certainly comforting.

ACD: I have only praise for anyone who take on the role of writer or author. Did you know that writers are leaders as seen from our point of view?  The writer is a leader indeed, in that he carries a torch of a particular type, and believing in his own topic, he dares to lead others down the lanes of what can eventually be their own enlightenment.

BLVR: Let’s talk about mummies.

ACD: (long pause.) Very well.

BLVR: You more or less invented the walking mummy genre. You published a short story called Lot No. 249 in 1892, a full five years before Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars. Yet Stoker is often credited with writing the first horror story involving mummies. Does that still get under your skin?

ACD: Bram and I had discussed the idea of mummies coming back to life over cognac several times. We had discussed it thoroughly, and one particular night, he went on and on about this grim subject almost ad nauseam. Our parting remark was simply that it would be interesting to see who would write about it first. I beat him to the punch, that’s all. Later, when he wrote his piece on it, I feel that he elaborated quite a bit to what I had merely touched upon in my story.

BLVR: Come on, you can say it. Stoker is a filthy thief.

ACD: I have no animosity towards my friend, Mr. Stoker. He attended my second wedding as my guest, and neither before this event nor since have I ever had anything but respect and good feelings for this man/soul.

IV. “I BELIEVE IN THE EQUALITY OF THE RACES AND THE SEXES AND OF ALL CREATURES ON EARTH, INCLUDING BIGFOOT.”

BLVR: You had a brief friendship with Oscar Wilde, isn’t that right? While you admired his work, you didn’t necessarily care for his unorthodox lifestyle.

ACD: The truth is that I see now that I really didn’t know Mr. Wilde as I thought I did. His inner nature, his soul if you will, was invisible to me then. And so now I question whether I really did know the chap. I would say no. Although I did enjoy his company on various occasions, I don’t know that I could be said to have been his friend for this very reason. How can you be a friend to someone who you don’t really know and whose lifestyle you disagree with? I was still under more misunderstanding about this issue of his lifestyle, and I presume you are referring to his homosexuality among other things, and so couldn’t really know the man himself. I was too busy judging the things that were being said about him, my own thoughts included in this motley crew.

BLVR: Do you still see him occasionally? Has Oscar mellowed in the afterlife?

ACD: I have come to know him very well I would say in the afterlife as you call it. I have found him to be one of the most kind and refined souls that I know. He now busies himself with helping one of the great spiritual Masters who work with the children of the world. He has graciously forgiven me for the ways in which I maligned him during our previous lives, and when our paths cross we are happy to greet each other and usually take the time to commune. As to whether he has “mellowed,” I believe he has. And this is only because here he has no need to fight for his life or defend anything in particular.

BLVR: How about your old pal Edgar Allan Poe? Do you keep in touch with him?

ACD: What can I say of such a soul save that he bore the brunt of a life that wasn’t easy. I haven’t had the opportunity of discussing much of anything with him, seeing as how his return to the spirit world wasn’t too far away in time from the time I took my last earthly birth. We’ve been like two ships passing in the night, I’m afraid. He did make a point of meeting me at the end of my last earthly life, and did so in a very unique way.

BLVR: How do you mean? Was he giving you creative advice?

ACD: In a manner of speaking. He made many suggestions to me about the character of Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t know until much later in that life about the reality of the spirit world or anything about it, so it wasn’t in my thoughts that anyone could be helping me along from the other side. It was he, in fact, who suggested that Mr. Holmes might partake in the recreational use of cocaine.

BLVR: So it was Poe’s idea to make Holmes a junkie?

ACD: Not in those terms, but yes. I remember considering it as a rather novel idea, and one that just might prove valuable. Let it be remembered that in those days, I was working my way through medical school, and also that cocaine wasn’t seen as it is today. I do believe it was actually legal to purchase it at the apothecary shop. At any rate, it didn’t have the stigma attached to it today.

BLVR: Speaking of changing cultural mores, what about characters like Zambo, the monosyllabic and brutish black slave from The Lost World. While that may have been an acceptable stereotype at the time, in hindsight do you regret your lack of racial tolerance?

ACD: This is and continues to be one of the main reasons that I do not have much to say about my erstwhile writings. I consider most of them, with the exception of some of the more historical pieces like The White Company, to be reflections of the person I was then, with all his attendant shortcomings, flaws of character, blind spots, and ignorance of so many things. When I regained to the world of Spirit, from which point all is seen more clearly if one desires unto clarity, I was appalled at so many things about my most recent self and his life. One of the major sources of pain and humiliation was that of my writings. I saw clearly how terribly close-minded and prejudiced I had been, and with every turn of the page there seemed to be some other unconscionable word or reference to deplore. It wasn’t long after this point that I gave up on reviewing most of my work. I had to be coaxed into accepting what all must accept once back in Spirit, that on earth we are expected to make mistakes and do. Which is why I can be asked this question about Zambo and not flinch out of embarrassment. My views have changed considerably since those days, and thank God for the Plan of Evolution in Life. I believe in the innate equality of the races and the sexes, and of all creatures on earth, including some that you all do not even believe in, such as your mythical Loch Ness monsters and your Bigfoot myth.

BLVR: I’m sorry, what was that again? Did you just say Loch Ness monsters? As in plural?

ACD: Yes, you did indeed hear me correctly. Both are very real creatures, and yes, there are more than one of them. The reason that you can’t seem to catch them in your traps or by your guns is simply that they are multi-dimensional and so aren’t always in your dimension. It’s been at those times when they have been seen by witnesses, who are telling the truth as far as they can.

V. “I WAS PRIVILEGED TO WITNESS THE INVENTION OF (LAPTOP COMPUTERS) IN THE LABORATORIES OF THE SPIRIT WORLD.”

BLVR: It must be such a unique experience to watch your books grow old, becoming dusty artifacts with yellowing pages. Does that make you sad, or remind you that literature really is the only source of immortality?

ACD: I suppose you could say that it is a unique experience, in that it doesn’t seem to follow the natural order of things. Usually an author is gone before his works are, so it could be said that he is survived by his own books. But in some cases it is the reverse, as with myself. I’m afraid that I haven’t given it a lot of thought, having so much more to ponder than what has become of my works. I will admit that at one point betwixt the time of my last passing and now, I did notice that these books were still gathering dust in many places and was amazed.

BLVR: Why do you think that your stories – particularly those involving Sherlock Holmes – continue to have such appeal for readers?

ACD: I would say that much of the allure and draw of Mr. Sherlock Holmes is to be found in the fact that subconsciously, most people who read about his talents have an inner knowledge that they also possess the same powers of discernment that he demonstrates. It is this that keeps him attractive to so many. He represents the mass potential, mentally speaking. It is a level of excellence that many fancy would be most helpful in their everyday lives, and so it would to be sure. To be so clever is, I believe, the destiny of every member of the human race eventually, given enough time for evolution.

BLVR: Are you ever curious to find out who still reads your books? I’ve always wanted to loiter in bookstores and, when somebody picked up one of my books, follow them home and study their reactions. I guess you’d literally be able to do that.

ACD: (Laughter.) Wonderful! What an amusing idea. Though this would certainly make for a fascinating experiment, I have not had enough time whilst on earth to even conceive of such a thing. It is enough to know that my books are still being read at all. As you may recall, especially in later years, I was writing about things that weren’t totally popular with the masses. My interest in Spiritualism was in some ways my Waterloo as an author, in that so few people at the time could appreciate it.
But I continued writing, hoping that in time some would come to see that we all had more relevant things to consider than whether Sherlock would solve the crime this way or that way.

BLVR: After all these years, do you still care about who your readership is?

ACD: Oh, but I do care, in the sense that I hope that whatever is gleaned from these books is yet of some use and service, if not amusement, to the readers. This last concern is much more weighty in my mind and heart than any care about my personal popularity as an author. This is why I can’t even say that I’m flattered that you’ve chosen me for this interview, though I am most grateful that you have seen fit to give me a window through which I can yet get some of my thoughts across to you all on the earth plane. If I could say anything further, it would be to enjoin you all to enjoy your lives as much as possible, in that in the enjoyment process one often finds what one is, and is not about, at the core of one’s being. I know this may sound a bit frivolous or even flippant, but there is a deep tone of truth to it, as yet unsuspected by the masses. The reason that one enjoys anything usually hides something there to be learned in this vast schoolhouse of earth.

BLVR: Do you ever feel cheated that you never lived long enough to enjoy modern conveniences like laptop computers? It’s made writing so much easier.

ACD: Ah, but I didn’t miss them at all. What if I told you that I was privileged to witness the invention of that thing here in the laboratories of the spirit world where all things are first worked out before they are released to one of your inventors on earth?

BLVR: Uh… I’d say that I didn’t believe you.

ACD: But it is so. In the initial experiments that I observed, the prototype to these lovely little things called laptop computers had parts that were too heavy for a machine of that size, so these had to be reduced. Others were found to be too intricate in their wiring to be usable for more than a few months before the wires inside would begin to melt or lose their effectiveness. Others made were too small, believe it or not, and were not found to be useful for that reason, not to mention the danger of having them swallowed by children or pets.

BLVR: Okay, I have to be honest. You lost me. I could buy the vampires and the Loch Ness monsters and the sprawling afterlife libraries. But I’m reasonably sure that spirits had nothing to do with laptops.

ACD: In that you would be incorrect. There are certain souls on this side of Life who have not taken incarnation for centuries due to their commitment to their work, whatever it may be. And some of those who seemingly invent these various contraptions are these same souls.

BLVR: Before we end this thing, would you mind whispering a few story ideas to me? Just something to get me started?

(Silence.)

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the March 2005 issue of the Believer magazine.)