Tales of lurid crime in the 19th century have brought more good news to Lyndsay Farber Lehner.
The Longview native first slashed her way into the literary world two years ago with "Dust and Shadow," her historical thriller in which Sherlock Holmes tries to outwit Jack the Ripper.
Lehner then turned her research to the early days of the New York City police department, circa 1845.
With the manuscript for "God of Gotham" nearly finished, Lehner, 30, has scored a deal to publish it and a yet-unwritten sequel in the United States and 10 other countries.
"I'm still trying to grasp how that happened," Lehner said this week in a phone interview from her home in New York.
Amy Einhorn, Lehner's editor and publisher, offered this explanation. "She's a terrifically talented writer who's writing a wonderful historical thriller," Einhorn gushed. "The formation of the first NYPD and the intersection of that with the great potato famine in Ireland is really fascinating."
Lehner's relatively quick rise as an author follows a first career as an actor.
She was active in Mainstage Theatre drama as a student at R.A. Long High School, from where she graduated in 1998. She double-majored in acting and English at Notre Dame de Namur in near San Francisco, then concentrated on acting in the Bay Area for a few years, often playing historical figures.
"I have a period look" that's right for the Victorian era or the 1940s, she said. "I have a nose that could etch things in glass."
Wanting new challenges, she and her husband, Gabriel, also a ‘98 R.A. Long grad, moved to New York in 2005. But Lyndsay Lehner was discouraged by all the competition for acting jobs. "I'm an extremely hard worker, but I'm not a hard enough worker to be a New York actor," she said. Rather than hitting the gym daily and studying dialect along with the typical waiting tables for a living, Lehner preferred to explore her new home. "I was so fascinated by the city, all I wanted to do was walk around in it."
After a year in New York, she switched her focus to writing.
Lehner spent a year researching and writing "Dust and Shadow," which tells of Holmes desperately trying to outwit the Ripper before he disembowels again. The detective has to go undercover after a rank newspaperman suggests that Holmes himself is the killer. Lehner used the real names of the Ripper's victims and details of their gruesome deaths.
The book was published in 2009 under Lehner's nom de plume, Lyndsay Faye, her real first and middle names. Lehner was buoyed by positive reviews. She said she doesn't know how many copies have been sold but her $100,000 advance lasted until the new "God of Gotham" deal. Though she didn't want to discuss financial details of it, she said, "I haven't had a day job in years now."
The next phase for "Dust and Shadow" may be a Broadway musical. A group of young Broadway professionals are adapting it into a song-and-dance show, she said. Though Lehner isn't writing the song lyrics or book for the musical, "they are letting me give all sorts of advice," she said.
It wouldn't be the first dark Broadway musical. Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" is about a London barber who killed and cooked his clients.
Lehner has high hopes for the "Dust and Shadow" musical finding a producer. Jonathan Reid Gealt, who is writing songs for the show, has gotten good reviews for his album of songs, she said.
And, "Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper murders is easy to describe," she said, unlike some concepts for Broadway shows.
Despite her history of belting out soprano parts in musicals herself, Lehner has no desire to act in her own show. She stopped acting when she turned to writing because "I'd rather be good at one thing than terrible at two things."
Her version of ‘Gangs of New York'
For "God of Gotham," Lehner moved across the Atlantic and back in time four decades.
The main characters are members of New York's fledging police department "when the first officers tried to figure out, ‘how do we do this?' ""
As in "Dust and Shadow," a serial killer is at large, in this case one "who is bent on fanning the flames of anti-Irish immigration that were the reality of the period."
Lehner spent six months holed up New York libraries, researching the period. "There is a very, very rich wealth of information when it came to immigrant issues," she said. She found that the Irish potato famine drove thousands of Irish people to New York. "They started flooding into the city. A lot of them ended up on the police force or on the other side."
Though many of the characters in "God of Gotham" are fictitious, some are based on historical figures. One is Bill Poole, who was portrayed as Bill the Butcher in the 2002 Martin Scorsese movie "Gangs of New York," set 20 years after Lehner's novel.
One of the things that appeals to Lehner about historical fiction is getting immersed in the vernacular of the day. "Actors are trained to be good mimics," she said. She enjoys reading slang dictionaries of the period she's writing about. "The language of the time always fascinates me," she said.
While researching "God of Gotham," Lehner discovered that George Washington Matsell, the first New York police commissioner, compiled what he called a "Rogues' Lexicon" so his officers could understand the slang of the people they encountered.
Lehner also prefers writing mysteries set in the time before sophisticated forensics and omnipresent surveillance cameras. In her stories, the good guys have to delve into human motivation and rely on common sense to solve crime. "My thrillers are very character-driven," she said.
A solitary process
By now, Lehner has made the adjustment from acting to writing.
"Acting is an extremely social enterprise when it comes to creation of the final project," she said. But writing is "so absolutely and totally solitary."
For both of her two novels to date, she's spent six months on research and five months to write. "That 11 months, you are absolutely alone. If I didn't have my cats in my apartment, I would lose my mind."
Lehner prefers to write between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., while her husband is working as a bartender.
The delayed gratification of finishing a novel has its rewards. "Once you've finished it's the most wonderful experience in the world, when people respond to people you invented out of thin air."
Lehner is also finessing a manuscript set in San Francisco during the Civil War. "I haven't tossed it in the fire, but I haven't managed to sell it yet."
Will she ever set a mystery in her home town?
Despite the adage "write what you know," the thought of penning a novel about Longview "bores me to tears," Lehner said. For instance, her memories of sitting with high school friends at Shari's until 3 a.m. can't compete with "terrifying criminal escapades and solving lurid episodes in London and New York."
Perhaps Portland will lend itself to a Lyndsay Faye novel. "Portland was nuts," she said. "It had a huge white slave trade. There's all kinds of history there."