Interview With an Author: Nicholas Meyer

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Nicholas Meyer and his latest book, The Return of the Pharaoh
Author Nicholas Meyer and his latest book, The Return of the Pharaoh. Photo credit: Leslie Fram

Nicholas Meyer is the author of three previous Sherlock Holmes novels, including The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for a year. He's a screenwriter and film director, responsible for The Day After, Time After Time, as well as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country among many others. A native of New York City, he lives in Santa Monica, California. In his latest novel, he returns with a new adventure for Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in The Return of the Pharaoh and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Return of the Pharaoh?

I had two sources of inspiration: the first was a suggestion by my longtime friend and agent, Alan Gasmer, to set a Holmes story in Egypt. For that reason, the novel is dedicated to him. My second source of inspiration was all those “Egyptian” movies I drooled over as a kid, Land of the Pharaohs, (Howard Hawks), The Egyptian (Michael Curtiz), Valley of the Kings (Robert Pirosh), plus countless other “spear and sandal” movies I gaped at in the old RKO 58th street movie palace. Those films ignited my fascination with all things ancient Egyptian and pretty soon I was reading about archeology (my first screenplay was a life of Heinrich Schliemann, discoverer of Troy) and ultimately Howard Carter and his 1922 discovery of Tut’s tomb.

How do you construct your mysteries? Do you plot everything, including the resolution, ahead of time? Or do you write and solve the problems as you progress through the novel?

I’m afraid I don’t really know. I think I go into a kind of extended trance and jot notes, ideas, look things up, backtrack, get ideas while falling asleep, add others when waking. It’s a bit like fiddling with a Rubik's cube (by an amateur).

Parts of The Return of the Pharaoh could almost be used as a primer for the study of Egyptology. In your acknowledgments, you list the resources you consulted. How long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write the novel?

My “research” began informally, starting with my childhood (see above), but subsequently involved a lot of reading. I was really researching a number of things—ancient Egypt, modern (i.e. early 20th century Egypt), Turkish (Ottoman) and British politics at that time, tuberculosis, and of course revisiting Doyle’s Holmes stories themselves, so make sure what I was adding would fit and not contradict his chronology, etc.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned about the ancient Egyptians during your research?

Two things pop instantly to mind—the number of things they mummified besides people. Surprisingly, many cats! Also their production and consumption of beer.

Have you visited Egypt, the pyramids, and the other sites/areas described in the novel? If so, when did you go? Does Watson’s description of seeing the pyramids for the first time reflect your own feelings from the first time you saw them?

I visited Egypt in 1979 and did indeed enter the Great Pyramid through the confining robbers’ entrance—which, so far as I know, is the only way in.

In our last interview, you expressed your distaste for Nigel Bruce’s portrayal/characterization of Dr. Watson. Is there a performance in one of the many films and television series that is closer to how you view the character? If so, which one and who is the actor?

I am inevitably partial to Robert Duvall’s Watson in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, also to Andre Morrel’s in the Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles and Edward Hardwick in the Jeremy Brett series. All these Watson’s depict a regular, not a sub-regular man, certainly not the dolt in Nigel Bruce’s version. Why would a genius hang out with the jerk?

What’s currently on your nightstand?

A biography of Richard Wagner, Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound, The Secrets We Kept.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

Dopesick, the Hulu television series about Oxycontin and the Sackler family's drugging of America.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Gosh. That is a toughie. Not sure…

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m co-creating a television series with Frank Spotnitz, with whom I co-created, Medici - Masters of Florence. I’m also fleshing out another Holmes story, in case Minotaur is interested.

Book cover for The Return of the Pharaoh
The Return of the Pharaoh
Meyer, Nicholas