Sunday, September 10, 2023

Interesting Interview: Ann Kimbrough

This week's Interesting Interview is with a Sherlockian a lot of folks might not know yet, Ann Kimbrough.  Ann is relatively new to Sherlockiana, so now is everyone's chance to get to know her so that we can all say, "I knew her way back when..."

I first met Ann at Holmes, Doyle, and Friends in March.  She presented on her new Sherlockian middle grade series that allows tradition to interact with today.  I've read a lot of Sherlockian books, and I've never seen Ann's take on the canonical tales before.  An added bonus is that they are told through graphic novels, so I immediately knew I wanted them in my classroom library!  Ann's new take on the Canon would be enough to warrant an interview, but she was so energetic and friendly in Dayton and St. Louis, that she simply must be promoted.  If you ever see Ann Kimbrough at a future Sherlockian event, make sure to say hi.  Your day will be much better for doing so!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is a real human being who believes a fictional human being is real, and devours all things about this person and his sidekick, Dr. Watson.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I haven’t officially converted, but perhaps it’s a status that just creeps up on you, until you say to yourself: “Ah, yes, it has happened.” I guess I could say that now. Today. Oh, wow, what a moment! I am a Sherlockian. Okay, cool. Knew it would be official, eventually. Glad you were here to witness it. Witnesses are very important in Sherlock’s world. However, it all must have started for me during the Pandemic. I needed something to inspire me, you see, and I’d read an article on stories that had just entered the public domain—which meant anyone could use them for anything! That intrigued me, and led to reading my first Sherlock Holmes adventure.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I’m a writer, now, working for myself; but I used to work in Los Angeles making TV commercials and music videos. Remember Madonna’s "Vogue" video? I was there. Being a writer has a big impact on my Sherlockian-mindset, as I can never get too far away from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s incredible skill as a storyteller.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I like "Silver Blaze." The horse did it! Who’d have thought? But as I continue to go through the Canon, that might change.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I’m impressed by Monica Schmidt. I want to be her, when I grow up. She’s what they used to call—a dame—and a smart cookie; not to mention, she has the best Ginger. I’d have to say, Monica and her husband Bill (the Ginger) are two amazingly fun people, and that’s saying a lot since I have many favorites that have welcomed me into the fold, like Rich Krisciunas, the Pied-Piper of keeping newbies like me in the know about Sherlockian events; Steve Mason, who is a Sherlockian guru (see Sherlock's Spotlight); Tom Campbell of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Cape Fear, who welcomes everyone on Zoom; and the classy and lovely couple—Dan & Ann Andriacco… did you know we’re starting a very unofficial Ann Club. It’s called Sherlocki-Anns. And there’s always Rob Nunn to add a little style to the gang, along with his teaching skills that seem to be needed everywhere. I honestly haven’t met a Sherlockian that didn’t impress me! So much so, I can’t stop at one.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

The subset written for kids. My Sherlockian writing was sparked from the fact that no one really teaches us how to think. Maybe they should, and why not teach kids to think like Sherlock?

Where did the idea for your Text Me Mysteries come from?

Boredom. As I mentioned, I needed something new to write during the pandemic. Everything I’d been working on was based in normal daily life, and suddenly, the norm seemed to be gone. Sherlock is timeless, and I was just struck by the idea of what if Sherlock was text messaging with modern-day teenagers? Maybe they could help him with a case, and learn something about deductive reasoning along the way.

As someone who's attended some of her first Sherlockian events recently, what would you say to encourage others to join you at future events?

Attending a Sherlockian event changed everything, for me, and I recommend it. You get to meet the coolest people, and it’s so wonderful to be around other people that get this part of you. Zoom meetings, too, are a great way to join this group, but attending in person is so much fun. Everyone is welcoming, and you’ll make a lot of friends!

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Would it be wrong to recommend my own graphic novels? LOL At least, I recommend them to that middle-grader to young adult in your life. For the rest of us, I’ve just been reading Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley. It’s mostly the letters that Conan Doyle wrote to his mother, but some are to friends and other family. They encompass his adult life and are fascinating! A real look inside at the man and the writer.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I see it continuing—forever! So far, there have been so many versions of Sherlock, why would the future be any different? At their core, the original stories still hold up. More Watsons and more Sherlocks, I say! 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

This Great International Affair [REIG]

I needed a topic to talk about for a scion meeting this month, so I thought a quick rundown of the history of the title change in "The Reigate Squires" would be an easy one.  Maybe define the word for other boorish Americans and quote some folks.  Easy peasy.  But just to make sure I wasn't missing anything that was common knowledge with apocryphal story of the name change, I told my wife I needed just a few minutes with my books to check some things.

Over the years, there has been plenty of confusion with the title of the seventh case in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Is it "The Reigate Squires" or should "Squires" be singular? And haven't I seen it listed as "The Reigate Puzzle"? Turns out, it's an international dispute.

According to D. Martin Dakin's entry for this story in A Sherlock Holmes Commentary:

"This first appeared in The Strand as The Reigate Squire (singular); but evidently soon after, this name struck Watson as inappropriate for the two men concerned, and in The Memoirs it was changed to The Reigate Squires.  In the American editions it has usually been altered to The Reigate Puzzle: it is believed that the first American editors feared that the word 'Squires' would be offensive or even incomprehensible to the Sons of the Free."

Thinking on Dakin's quote, I have to admit that it felt off because in GREE, Holmes famously told Watson that “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class."  Why can Americans be expected to understand it in this context but not in a story's title?

But Dakin's theory has been the explanation given for as long as I can remember. And like many other things in Sherlockiana, I've trusted those that have come before me as they are always smarter than me and usually correct.

And only one page of the manuscript exists, and that isn't the title page.  So we can't go to the source  material for this one.  So I delved a little deeper into this, and came across an article from Baker Street Miscellanea, Number 35, Autumn 1983. Ann Byerly reports that in Sidney Paget's account book from March 1893 says "7 drawings S.H. (Reigate Puzzle)".

It seemed odd that Paget would use "Puzzle," but that could be brushed away as Paget is connected with so many Sherlock Holmes stories. Surely his contact at the American magazine, Harper's Weekly, reported this title to him at some point.

But Paget didn't illustrate the American edition.

As with so many Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand magazine, Sydney Paget illustrated the tale.  But Harper's Weekly in America commissioned W. H. Hyde for two illustrations.  There is no connection between the British illustrator and the American title.

So why would Sydney Paget refer to this story as "The Reigate Puzzle"?

Byer posited in her article that Doyle originally titled the story "Puzzle" but after sending his submission to America, changed his mind and changed the manuscript title to "Squire."  Four years after this article was published, Richard Lancelyn Green stated the same theory in his essay on the story in The Baker Street Dozen.  Lancelyn Green hypothesized that Doyle wrote to The Strand editor and requested the title be changed. (Constantine Rossakis later told me in an email that Green changed his mind, but I've yet to see documentation on that point.)

(Lancelyn Green also pointed out that there can only be one squire, as The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word "squire" as meaning "one who is the chief land-owner, magistrate, or lawyer in a district."  So the plural edition that we've all been using is incorrect. Confused yet? Me too.)

At the time of this writing, I have spent two hours in this rabbit hole and have dug through: A Sherlock Holmes CommentaryBaker Street MiscellaneaThe Baker Street DozenFrom Holmes to SherlockThe Oxford Annotated edition of The MemoirsThe Sherlock Holmes Reference Library edition of The MemoirsThe Baker Street JournalThe Green Bag Almanac, a few emails, and numerous websites.  So much for "just a few minutes with my books."

After all of this, you know what I've come up with?  

The American title is the right one and the British version is incorrect.  USA! USA! USA!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Interesting Interview: Rich Krisciunas

If you've been anywhere around Sherlockiana over the past few years, you've seen the name Rich Krisciunas.  He started popping up in a bunch of Zoom meetings during Covid and seemed like a nice guy.  Turns out, that's not an act.  Rich has been to plenty of Sherlockian gatherings once the world opened back up and everyone who's met him, myself included, agree that he is a joy to spend time with.

And Rich's work pops up all over the place!  He's active in his local scion, is resurrecting another, and was just published in a recent issue of The Baker Street Journal.  He runs the John H. Watson Society's annual treasure hunt.  He gives a monthly presentation on law at the Crew of the Barque Lone Star Zoom meetings.  He is one of the founding members of The Legion of Zoom.  He presented at Holmes in the Heartland.  And if a scion society is hosting a meeting online, you can count on him being there and contributing to the discussion.  Did I forget something?  Probably.  There's no keeping up with this guy.  But you can get to know him a little better in this week's interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I’m a simple guy. I look at a “Sherlockian” as anyone who enjoys any facet of Sherlock Holmes from the Canon, pastiches, movies, to any TV series and who is part of our community. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in the early 60’s when a local TV station showed the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies. I loved his deductions. I don’t recall reading the stories because I mostly read stuff about baseball. 

In the 1970’s, my wife bought me the Annotated Sherlock Holmes for Christmas and she gave me a different Sherlock Holmes book every year that I read during the Christmas break. One year it was Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Percent-Solution, another year Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula or The Adventures of the Sanguinary Count

I had a framed Hound of the Baskervilles movie poster that I hung in my office and another lawyer saw it and invited me to a meeting of The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit. I attended several meetings and enjoyed the camaraderie playing The Game but had to drop out after I was promoted to a special unit where I tried only First Degree Murder cases and didn’t have time for recreational reading. 

After I retired from the active practice of law, I discovered that the Mendicants were still meeting and there were three other societies in Michigan. I began attending their meetings and rekindled my love for the Canon. I hate to admit it but because of the Covid pandemic, I was able to attend numerous virtual meetings each week and made Sherlockian friends I never would have met.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian? 

I am a lawyer and have been involved in criminal law for 48 years. I joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit after graduation in 1975. After retiring as the Chief of the Trial Division in 2004, I was hired, full-time, by my alma mater, the University of Detroit, where I have taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor since 1983. I began defending court-appointed clients so I could take my students to court with me. I did that for 12 years and handled a couple thousand cases. Currently, I work as a city attorney at a local district court, six minutes from my house, one morning a week. 

I’ve found a niche doing Sherlockian Law 101 for the Crew of the Barque Lone Star every month. When I read the canon, I always think about how I would prosecute or defend the people Holmes suspected of crimes. Which witnesses could testify? What evidence would be admissible? What would I argue to a jury? I have enjoyed writing articles and making presentations about prosecuting Sherlock Holmes and defending people like Beppo, Adelbert Gruner and Captain James Clayton.

What is your favorite canonical story?

Charles Augustus Milverton. “The worst man in London.” Blackmail. Holmes disguised as a plumber. Engaged! Poor Agatha. Holmes deciding to commit a burglary. Loyal Watson refusing to let Holmes do it alone. Milverton isn’t asleep and both are trapped. The surprise shooting of Milverton. Holmes’ refusal to help Lestrade. “My sympathies are with the criminals.” Holmes playing with Lestrade, “My, it might be a description of Watson.” The most fun for me was writing a paper proving that a “regal and stately lady” didn’t kill Milverton but the real shooter was, actually, Sherlock Holmes.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I can’t limit it to one. Without a doubt, it’s Bob Katz, Paul Thomas Miller and Mike McSwiggin. They all influenced and inspired me and made me laugh whenever they did a presentation. They all came up with clever and unique perspectives that no one had thought of before. 

For years, I read writings about the writings that were serious and then I heard their presentations. They were thoroughly researched, plausible and funny, and it hit me to think about what hasn’t been done before. Katz’s paper on Dr. Watson being at Gettysburg when he was a youth inspired me to look at everything in the Canon differently. Miller’s blog, The Shingle of Southsea is brilliant. They inspired me to write things like the disgusting and despicable Baren Adelbert Gruner was, simply, “The Most Misunderstood Man in the Canon.” 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I love the legal aspects in the stories. I like to read the writings about the writings and I love the BSI Professional Series like Canon Law and Nerve and Knowledge. Whenever I read a canonical story, I enjoy going down rabbit holes after finding something that intrigues me or I don’t understand. I love finding the back stories in every adventure. Thank goodness for the Internet. For instance, when I read about doctors Palmer and Pritchard, the “first of criminals,” in "Speckled Band," I researched who they were and who they poisoned so I could do a presentation at my local scions or on Zoom for other groups. 

Your monthly presentations on Sherlockian Law 101 are always fun and informative.  How do you juggle the differences in British vs. American law?

Thank you and thanks to Steve Mason and the Crew of the Barque Lone Star for inviting me to present. American law is based largely on the Common Law of England so there are not a lot of differences. Thanks to the Internet and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law library, I have access to law books and legal search engines that enable me to read old law review articles, statutes and court cases from the nineteenth century. 

I’ve enjoyed doing legal research since I attended law school in the 70’s so it’s all fun and not work at all. Being retired, if I’m not golfing or watching hockey, I’m doing legal research for Sherlockian Law 101 or some future Sherlockian presentation on Zoom or for my local scions, like the Ribston-Pippins.

How do you go about preparing the John H. Watson Society's treasure hunt?  That seems like a HUGE undertaking!

OMG How did I ever think volunteering to do the treasure hunt was a good idea? It’s like running a marathon. I start at the beginning of each new year. I try to come up with a topic and do the research for that set of questions. I complete one set every month. One funny thing is that no matter how thorough I think my preparation has been, I am always surprised when someone comes up with an answer I didn’t anticipate and I have to give credit for the answer.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I really like two volume set The Grand Game for the historical perspective on the stories and Mattias Bostrom’s “From Holmes to Sherlock” so you can see what was going on in Conan Doyle’s life during the time he was writing certain stories.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I hope I’m still around to see it. We need to figure out a way to attract more people, especially younger readers, to attend society meetings in person or virtually on Zoom, and to subscribe to publications like The Baker Street Journal, Sherlock Holmes Review, Canadian Holmes and Sherlock’s Spotlight

I’m worried about the future as most of us are getting older. There’s a scion in Michigan that’s been around since 1946 that stopped meeting in person after the pandemic began. I contacted its 45 members and am trying to resuscitate the group but only a dozen have agreed to attend a future meeting. I see a lot of the same faces at various conferences and virtual meetings on Zoom. Will we be able to attract new people and younger readers into our community? 

I would anticipate more movies and TV programs because the character, Sherlock Holmes, has so much appeal. He is unique and clever and sees things that others can’t. I anticipate more pastiches because there are more people writing stories but are they being read? Everyone is being pulled in different directions. We need to make it convenient to attend meetings virtually. As a member of the Legion of Zoom, I have attended over 600 meetings of over 30 different societies and met people from around the world. Hopefully, the future will include larger virtual groups. 

I know people like to meet in-person and socialize, but it is sad that a great presentation at an in-person meeting of the Parallel Case of St. Louis or Speckled Band of Boston is seen only by that group’s members and then is lost and never seen again by other Sherlockians around the world. We need to find a way to capture the presentations and make them available online to other Sherlockians who can watch it at their convenience. How many people are out there who don’t live near a scion and can’t attend an in-person meeting but would love to see these presentations? 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Interesting Interview: Mark Alberstat

This week's Interesting Interview is with the man, the myth, the legend: Mark Alberstat.  Mark and his wife JoAnn have been editing Canadian Holmes, the Journal of The Bootmakers of Toronto, for well over a decade.  I love this journal and you can tell that the Alberstats focus on putting out a good quality product every three months.  Mark will look familiar to most of us who were active during the Zoom boom of Sherlockiana, as he was a much sought after speaker for his many different talks on Arthur Conan Doyle and sports.  

Canadians are known for their friendliness, and let me tell you, Mark fits that mold!  He's published a few of my pieces in Canadian Holmes, and my interactions with him are always lovely.  He's also a contributor to an upcoming anthology I'm co-editing and the emails between us have been just as great when our roles have been reversed.  In fact, he's even nicer in those!  Mark is a guy who loves to promote others, but doesn't promote himselfe enough as far as I'm concerned.  So please take a few minutes today to appreciate a really great guy, Mark Alberstat!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I have a very loose definition of Sherlockian. For me it is anyone who enjoys the Sherlock Holmes stories. If that is in their original Strand form, great! If it is through BBC’s Sherlock, wonderful! If it is enjoying Brett’s interpretation on the character, superb! If it is spending six months researching and writing a scholarly article for Canadian Holmes or some other journal, more power to you! In our local club we have people who have 100s of books and we have some with fewer than a dozen. For me, they are all Sherlockians and friends.  The more the merrier, the wider the better.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I first came across the stories in my childhood by flipping the super thin pages of my Dad’s Doubleday 2-volume edition. I have a clear memory of being in grade school and bringing in the first volume for the teacher to read from to the class. I have a vague recollection that it was “A Scandal in Bohemia,” but a stronger memory of the teacher holding my Dad’s volume and reading about this detective with an odd name.

I read the stories, from those two volumes in my early teens, but when I was 15 or so I was in a used bookstore and stumbled across DeWaal’s World Bibliography. I was fascinated and surprised at all the entries and pleased to find that Doubleday edition. In the back there was a listing of Sherlockian societies. In those pre-internet days, I sat down and wrote to each one, in alphabetical order, and introduced myself and asked them what a Sherlockian society does. It was just my good fortune that one of the first societies to respond was The Brothers Three Moriarty run by John Bennett Shaw. That first letter from John sparked an almost monthly correspondence that lasted a decade or more. About five or six times a year John would also send me a manila envelope crammed full of Sherlockian clippings, journals, and almost anything else he could put inside. Thanks to these magical packages I soon realized what a wide world the Sherlockian one was. John also encouraged me to form a local club and, knowing I was a sports fan, to pursue that avenue as my specialty in the Sherlockian world.

What is your previous profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I recently retired after 30 years in IT, most recently writing and maintaining provincial government websites. I am not sure the profession gave me any extra enjoyment as a Sherlockian but when I had to write some programs and create unique variable names, I did, on occasion, use Sherlockian references. There may still be small web-based programs running on the provincial website using variable names of Holmes, Watson and BakerStreet.

What is your favorite canonical story?

For this answer I have to cheat a little and name two, but let me explain why.  My all time favourite to read and re-read is “The Man with the Twisted Lip.”  Twisted Lip and twist at the end surprised me so much when I first read it the shock has stayed with me. Also, the thought of a journalist making more begging for pennies then on his set salary interested me enough, and who knows, may have helped me along to getting my degree in journalism and meeting JoAnn along the way.

The other story that I always have a fondness for is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” Picture yourself as a young teen, in a small Canadian city on the east coast of Canada, a few stones throw from the Atlantic ocean. You are reading the tales of the world’s most famous detective. He dashes around London, beating the criminals and sees through the Victorian fog. You begin to read Copper Beeches for the first time and in the opening few paragraphs you come across the name of the city where you are sitting. A thunderclap couldn’t have been louder in my mind. When I read: “I have been a governess for five years,” said she, “in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the Colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to America with him..” I was amazed. Sherlock Holmes knows of Halifax? How could I not have this story as a favourite. There are also century-old copper beech trees in our neighbourhood.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

This is a difficult question to answer since editing a journal all these years we have come across so many interesting Sherlockians, some well known, some not so. However, I am going to suggest Mark Jones. Not only does he have a great first name, he is personable and writes a regular column on Conan Doyle’s non-Sherlockian works in The Strand for Canadian Holmes. Many Sherlockians will know Mark from the podcast he co-hosts with Paul M. Chapman, another name I could have easily featured in this answer, and cleverly just did! Mark’s knowledge of Conan Doyle’s works, influences and legacy makes his Doings of Doyle podcast a joy to listen to and an education at the same time.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

This is a tough question to answer as I have been a Sherlockian for so long my interests have changed. During my early days as a Sherlockian, and being a friend of John Bennett Shaw, collecting anything and everything related to Holmes was my focus. Any book, magazine, game, t-shirt or item that had a Sherlockian connection was brought into my collection. Because of those years my collection isn’t a large one on the international stage, but still dominates one room in our house. Many years later, after meeting more and more Sherlockians I realized my collection would never be a really large or important one and my interest shifted to writing and editing. Today I have a focus on Conan Doyle’s life with a particular interest on sports. Editing Canadian Holmes, however, can sometimes shift your interest for a while as you delve deeper into a topic on which an article has been proposed or submitted. The Sherlockian mine is a deep one and on any day I might follow a new vein.

What are some fond memories you have from your years of editing Canadian Holmes?

My wife JoAnn and I have been editing this quarterly journal for over 55 issues, that’s a lot of years and a lot of articles. Some years ago we started putting artwork from amateur artists on the cover. This has brought a bit more prominence to these artists. I take a lot of pleasure when I hear back from an artist about the positive responses they have had over their work being on our cover.

Working with prominent Canadian Sherlockians is always fun for a journal based in Canada but also making the journal an international one has also been rewarding. When you know your work is being read and enjoyed around the globe the hours and hours of work which goes into each 40-page issue seems to fall away.

You are known for your interest linking Arthur Conan Doyle to sports.  What does research for combining those two topics look like?

A lot of the time, it looks like me at the computer searching and searching and searching newspaper archives, memoirs and sport histories. I believe that if we really want to know about the life of Conan Doyle we have to consider more than just his literary influences but also what he did and enjoyed day to day and without a doubt that is sport.

In 1999 I wrote to Dame Jean Conan Doyle and asked for some time to interview her about her father. From the reply I could tell she wasn’t that keen on it. When I mentioned that I wasn’t interested in talking about Sherlock Holmes but wanted to discuss her father and his love of sport, she agreed.  What followed was a delightful conversation of her fond memories of an active and loving father. Of the long skis in the hallway and playing cricket on the lawn of their home. It was her interest in me wanting to tell that side of her father which assured me that I not only had the right topic for years of writing and research, but one that needed telling in a careful and detailed way.

When I am writing about ACD and baseball, cricket, cycling or any of the other topics I have written and researched about what I am really doing is contributing to our overall understanding of our favourite author.  What made him place our dynamic duo on Baker Street? Certainly, it is in central London but it is also a short stone’s throw to Lord’s Cricket Ground. When he made Holmes a boxer, was he considering some of his own traits? This is a man who had a boxing ring built in his garage after all.

To know Conan Doyle, we have to understand his love and obsession with sport. It is a small niche but one I have found fun to dig into. After all, I also have a background as a sports reporter.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

With shelves and shelves of books it is difficult to lay my hand on just one to recommend, but if I had to, it would be Mattias Boström’s From Holmes to Sherlock. For me this book takes a unique view at a world that had been examined many times before. It is also a book which, I feel, exists because of the many books, articles and essays that went before it.

Mattias found a voice and an angle into our Sherlockian world which would interest even the most casual of Sherlockians, and could, with any luck, turn them into rabid, blog reading, podcast listening, meeting attending, researching Sherlockians who will then add to our world in their own way. I should also note that Mattias and I work together on the Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers series of books published by Gasogene.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I think our hobby is now on a curve of change, along with society. No longer do we have to attend far off conferences to hear this person or that person speak. We can stay home, turn on a Zoom meeting and meet Sherlockians from all over the world, hear their voices, see their faces and listen to their views on a wide variety of topics.

You no longer need deep pockets to fly here and there for a weekend of Sherlockian talks and fun. You can stay home and be just as well informed. You can reach out via email or social media and correspond with your favourite pastiche article, editor or writer.

I think in 5 or 10 years, many local clubs will have folded or morphed into occasional meetings of like-minded friends, and Sherlockians will find more and more ways to meet across the digital landscape.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Forming Most Devoted Friendships [SIGN]


What a weekend.

Holmes in the Heartland ended a few hours ago, and after coming home and taking a nap, I can finally start to reflect on the weekend.  And it was a great weekend.

First and foremost, the planning committee, Brad Keefauver, Heather Hinson, Kristin Mertz, Adam Presswood, Cindy Brown, Joe Eckrich, and Stacey Bregenzer, put in a ton of work and had to put up with a lot of emails and deadlines from me over the past year.  So I want to publicly say thank you to them for helping to make a great event.

A detailed recap of the weekend will be posted on The Parallel Case of St. Louis blog in August, so I'm just going to highlight a few points on this post.

After all of the planning and finagling it seems weird to say that my favorite moment of the weekend came from an unscheduled moment, but that's the way it worked out.

After the speakers' program ended on Saturday, we had a two hour break before the dinner banquet so I ran up to my hotel room for a minute.  Coming back down to the lobby, the elevator doors opened up and I saw the lobby bar PACKED with Sherlockians.  All of our local Sherlockians were mingling with out-of-towners.  People were spending time with their old friends.  People were meeting new folks, some that they had only interacted with online or read the name of as a mention or byline in an article.

And a huge smile spread across my face.  We created that moment.  If we hadn't planned Holmes in the Heartland and enticed people to visit St. Louis in July, those people would not have been enjoying their time together right there and then.  Some people never would have met the folks they did this weekend.  Great conversations with old friends would've gone un-had.  The smiles and laughs during that time would've been spent somewhere else with other people.  But instead, almost a hundred Sherlockians were able to get together for a few days and enjoyed each other's company.

I've said it over and over, but spending time with other Sherlockians is my favorite part of this hobby.  When we first started planning this Holmes in the Heartland, I wanted to make sure that people had plenty of time to spend with one another and I think we really pulled that off.  So to everyone who was at the Sheraton Westport in St. Louis this weekend, I hope you had a great time with great people.  Because that's what these events are all about.

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But, dang, did we have some great things happening as well!  Here are some quick highlights from the weekend:

The small groups that found places to hang out as people arrived in town

Saturday night's dinner.  Hotel banquet food had no right to taste as good as that stuff did.

Hearing people marvel at how beautiful the St. Louis Public Library building is

Seeing vendors fill people's hands with treasures.  (One vendor completely sold out of every item they brought!)

The joy on people's faces when they'd win a door prize

Watching Madeline Quinones dominate in Sherlockian trivia

Watching Steve Mason waddle around the dinner tables dressed as a goose

Seeing everyone appreciate and enjoy the history of St. Louis at the St. Louis Arch

The presentations!  So many great moments, but I will just highlight one from each presenter:

Ray Betzner being eminently likeable while talking about a despicable man character

Watching Kristin Mertz deliver her first-ever speech and looking like she's done it a million times

Cindy Brown connecting Victorian crimes to their present day counterparts and making us see we readers aren't so much smarter than these folks

Steven Doyle giving the complete opposite talk than what I thought (and worried) he was going to give

Mike McSwiggin complaining that he's tired of giving Sherlockian talks during the summer when he should be vacationing

Beth Gallego making me want to add too many titles to my already too long TBR list

Monica Schmidt getting a nice surprise at the end of her presentation

Joe Eckrich, Rich Kriscuinas, and Michael Waxenberg somehow making a 150 year-old court trial a hilarious recap of the day's events

Thanks again to everyone who came to Holmes in the Heartland 2023.  For those of you traveling back home today or tomorrow, I wish you an easy trip.  And for those of you on the planning committee, get some rest.  You deserve it!

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Interesting Interview: Catherine Cooke

Catherine Cooke is a name I've always heard in Sherlockiana, but never got to know until recently.  Lately, Catherine and I have been emailing on a project and she comes across as an immensely knowledgeable and professional lady while still conveying genuine charm and likeability through her communications.  She's also been on a few episodes of the From Adler to Amberley podcast, and from listening to those episodes, it's clear that her good qualities abound in any form you get to enjoy her in!

For anyone who isn't yet familiar with Catherine, she is a very well-respected person in our hobby  Catherine has managed Westminster's Sherlock Holmes Collection for over forty years.  She is currently the chair of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London and has been an active member of that group since 1980, and has won their Tony Howlett Award and Tony and Freda Howlett Literary Award.  But her Sherlockian bona fides aren't restricted to England!  She is a member of ASH and BSI, has won the BSI Morley-Montgomery Award, and the Bootmakers of Toronto's Derrick Murdock Award.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Someone who is interested in the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon – the stories, films, other books.  Not necessarily all of it – some who is interested in the stories and, say, the films is just as much a Sherlockian as someone who is interested in the stories and the “Higher Criticism”

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My older brother wanted to watch the 1965 BBC series starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson, and his small sister wasn’t going to go out of the room because he had his choice, so I watched as well and got hooked.  I emphasise that I was extremely young at the time!  I then found some of the early classic British books on the stories in the local library and my interest developed from there.  We of course had the original stories on the bookshelves at home already. 

What was your profession and how did that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I am a retired librarian.  I got my first job with Westminster City Libraries after a chat with the personnel manager there, since it was close to Bedford College, where I was studying.  I spent my entire career with Westminster, in various roles, but managing their Sherlock Holmes Collection for some 40 years.  I now manage it as a volunteer.  This has brought me into contact with Sherlockians from all over the world, and meeting others and hearing their take on matters Sherlockian is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our world.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Solitary Cyclist”.  Violet Smith is no shrinking violet.  Followed on a lonely country road, she doesn’t have an attack of the vapours – she tries to catch the man who is following her!

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

It is difficult to pick on one person.  Many of those I would have considered are no longer with us.  If I must, then Jonathan and Elaine McCafferty (yes – I know that’s 2 people).  They have a wealth of experience in the field, and a wealth of anecdotes – wonderful company.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I think the settings of the stories.  Conan Doyle grounded so many of them in places he knew, or used real events as inspiration.  I find researching these aspects takes you down rabbit holes you would never otherwise be exploring. 

I've been lucky enough to have you as part of an upcoming anthology on important Sherlockian books, out next January.  Can you tell everyone which book you wrote about and why you feel it is worthy of being in every Sherlockian's library?

Thank you.  I covered In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Harrison.  This rather ties in with the previous question.  Published originally in 1958, this was one of the first books about the stories, explaining what Holmes’ world was like - why he might have chosen rooms in Baker Street, what entertainment was available in London, what prices were like, how London and the suburbs were changing.  It is an indispensable guide to the London and England that Holmes knew and worked in, so different in many ways from today’s. 

As someone who has been involved with The Sherlock Holmes Society of London for many years, what are some of the highlights from your tenure as a member?

Now I feel old!  Being able to meet and talk with Dame Jean Conan Doyle, and knowing people such as Tony and Freda Howlett, Stanley Mackenzie, Bernard Davies, Richard Lancelyn Green to name but a few.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.  The various trips we have made – several in costume to Switzerland, but also our weekend trips to places like Southsea, Dartmoor, the Peak District, Norfolk and so on – visiting the locations where cases took place and hearing talks about them and the wider history of the area.  And our Annual Dinners – the chance to socialise with so many of our members we don’t see very often, and hearing the speeches of people like Mark Gatiss, Stephen Fry or Nicholas Meyer.    

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This may be somewhat off the wall, but Sven Hedin’s two-volume account Central Asia and Tibet, published by Hurst and Blackett, London, in 1903. Volume 2 covers Tibet.  They are available on the second-hand market or Google Books, if not from your local library.  Holmes spent two years in Tibet - he must have traveled widely.  Tibet is the highest and coldest plateau in the world. We should not, therefore, imagine Holmes traveling around on his own; he would require extensive supplies, pack animals, local guides and servants, as Hedin did.  On a good day, they could cover 24 miles, compared with 12 or less in the mountains, though progress depended as much on the animals as on the weather and the terrain.  We might also remember that Holmes was traveling under the assumed identity of a Norwegian.  He might very well have entered Lhasa itself, disguised as a merchant’s servant or pilgrim from somewhere like Ladak or as a Buryat, disguises used by Hedin at various times.  There are times when one has to be adept at sitting on the proverbial fence.  Was Arthur Conan Doyle inspired by the newspaper account of Sven Hedin’s travels as he wrote Sherlock Holmes’ way out of that great chasm at the foot of the Fall of the Reichenbach?  Or should we read Hedin’s adventures and allow them to throw some light on the experiences Holmes would surely have had while travelling in the East, about which he and Dr. Watson tell us so little?  Hedin was not only an intrepid, brave explorer and gifted artist, he was an excellent writer and story teller, whose accounts of his travels are exciting and even funny page turners.  Try Trans-Himalaya, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909 as well.  They are rollicking good reads! 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

It is so hard to make predictions; I’m not sure I can. Who four years ago would have predicted the opening up of Sherlockian meetings world-wide using Zoom?  I hope we’ll still be meeting in person to hear about and discuss new theories about the stories and the merits of new actors who have taken on the mantle.  Younger Sherlockians will have new ideas, new fields of study.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Interesting Interview: Soren Eversoll

Did you dress up as Sherlock Holmes when you were eight years old?  Well, this week's Interesting Interview did!  Soren Eversoll met the Great Detective at an early age and never let go.  He was a member of The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota before he could drive, and recreated 221B in his parents' house so well that the Twin Cities' newspaper did a story on him.

But what I find really amazing is that Soren's interest in Holmes has never left him.  How many of us can think of things that we found interesting as kids but faded away as we grew and life offered new opportunities?  In fact, Soren, now a college student, presented at last month's Lone Star Holmes conference in Dallas.  So let's hear from a Sherlockian who definitely keeps those Holmes fires burning, Soren Eversoll!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is, most simply put, a person who loves Sherlock Holmes and actively pursues that love. I think that this does require some familiarity with Conan Doyle’s stories, though this does not need to be comprehensive and should be something a person fascinated with Holmes would want to do anyway. The world of Sherlockiana has exploded since the old BSI Morley days, which I think shows that Holmes has the legs to withstand changing consumer appetites and should be celebrated. Turning up one’s nose at someone who’s entry point is the BBC show, which happens to be most of my generation, is corrosive to the whole idea of passing the torch forward and letting Holmes be Holmes for a new set of devotees. Nonetheless, a good Sherlockian might then direct that person towards the canon, as it is the foundation for everything else and a great read anyway. 

Overall, however, I think a Sherlockian is just a person who puts down whatever form of Holmes content they have been consuming and feels that enjoying it is simply not enough, that they need to make something in response, or collect, or seek out others who feel the same way. It is that active pursuit, I think, that captivation with whatever lit the first spark, that really separates someone who just likes Sherlock Holmes from a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

When I was seven I used to take swimming lessons at the University of Minnesota. My mom found an abridged audiobook collection of Holmes stories at our local library, including  “The Speckled Band” and “A Scandal in Bohemia”, and started playing them to me in the car to and from my lessons. I can’t really pinpoint now what drew me so much to the stories, though it was probably some combination of the crime, the historical period, and the character of Holmes—after that I was completely hooked and wanted to hear the audiobooks over and over again. My mom encouraged me to talk to my grandpa, who had a big leatherbound collection of the entire canon with the Paget illustrations. I remember poring over that book when I was a kid—when we went to my grandparents’ house it was the first thing I went for. It was around then that I started building a small recreation of the 221B sitting room in a tiny basement closet, mostly out of construction paper taped to the walls and little antiques I’d found. That really deepened my interest and forced me to go over the stories again to find the small elements of the room that I’d missed. 

I got connected to the world of Sherlockiana through Jake Esau, an actor in my local library circuit who would give performances as different literary or historical figures such as Edgar Allan Poe, P.T. Barnum, Dracula, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. I showed up to enough of his events and asked enough questions about Holmes that he eventually got me in touch with Minnesota’s scion society The Norwegian Explorers. The people in the Explorers were extremely welcoming to an obsessive little eight year old—through them I started attending monthly meetings and deepened my love for the stories and the playing of “The Game”. 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

This fall I’ll be a senior English major at Carleton College, a liberal arts college in southern Minnesota. Being a college student primarily studying literature has fundamentally changed the way I approach the Conan Doyle stories—rereading them today I find that I’ve become equally interested in Conan Doyle’s prose style and the evolution of that style across the stories, as well as the different narrative structures he employs and what exactly makes them so effective. I think that my academic environment (and most across the country, I’d wager), is now very focused upon exploring if the conventional ‘literary classics’, most of which were written by well-to-do white men, are still relevant to readers and the study of literature in general. While I think that many are, and in no way consider Conan Doyle a concerning literary figure on the level of H. P. Lovecraft, I do think that there’s an interesting conversation to be had about what makes certain stories timeless and resonant even though some of their more unsavory elements (I’m looking at you, The Sign of Four and “The Adventure of the Three Gables”), exist, as well as the value in understanding works of art as products of their time, reflective of moral deficiencies that we may now balk at. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

This is probably cheating but I’m going to include “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House” as one big story. In “The Final Problem” I love the character of Moriarty, a villain who actually has the mental power to undo Holmes, the canonically unique cross-country adventure through Europe, the near-cinematic confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls—one of the most iconic images in literature, I’d argue—and Watson’s absolutely heartbreaking final description of his friend as “the best and the wisest man” he has ever known. This story is just pure fun and the death of Holmes is such an unexpected left turn that when I read it for the first time I remember setting my book down and spending a good couple days actually thinking that that was the end. 

I think the unconventionality of “The Final Problem” goes wonderfully with the more standard mystery of “The Adventure of the Empty House”, which brings the detective back to London and provides everything that I want in a classic Sherlock Holmes story—a seemingly-impossible killing, a late night stakeout, the bizarre trickery of the bust, and a wonderful second-in-command to Moriarty manifested in the odious Colonel Sebastian Moran, my favorite of Holmes’ antagonist after Baron Gruner. I also adore Holmes’ disguise as the book peddler, his reveal to a fainting Watson, the description of what really happened at Reichenbach (baritsu!), and everything the detective has gotten up to in the meantime. There’s so much juicy information here about Holmes’ character and I think the story portrays a deepening of his relationship with Watson that keeps me coming back, even though not a lot of deduction goes on in the case itself.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Karen Murdock (ASH) is a really wonderful Sherlockian based in the Twin Cities—she is a longtime member of The Norwegian Explorers with a special interest in unique figures of speech found in the canon. This includes instances of hapax legomenon (in which a word is only mentioned once across the four novels and fifty-six short stories), assonant phrasings, anaphora (the selective repetition of a certain word), and much more. A lot of this work can be found on the online discussion group The Hounds of the Internet, of which Karen is a frequent contributor. On top of this she is one of the kindest, most generous people I know—when I was building my second 221B in middle school Karen would always come by to my house with old books she had picked up that she thought would be good additions to the room. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

This is probably obvious from my previous answers but I am especially interested in recreations of the 221B sitting room—this can manifest itself in maps, miniatures, sets for films and TV shows, and life-sized recreations built by enthusiasts. There is something about the realization of the iconic room and the unique interpretation that every creator brings to their space that I find thrilling—Conan Doyle peppers enough little inconsistencies and throwaway details through the canon to make the mapping of the place’s layout a scholarly project unto itself, which becomes as much about personal creative expression as an experiment in close reading. 

I’ve also become more interested in the early history of Sherlockiana, particularly pertaining to the old BSI days of the thirties and forties. While there was a lot that was exclusionary about this culture, I find the development of “The Great Game” and Sherlockian scholarship, which would pave the way for all forms of modern fandom, to be a fascinating portion of our history that I would love to further research. 

As someone who has grown up being a Sherlockian, how has your activity in this hobby changed as you've grown?

I would say that the biggest difference between my early days of Sherlockian interest and today is that I’ve now known some of the people in the community for over a decade now, and thus feel a deeper connection to the social aspect of Holmes scholarship than I did in the past. I’m also at an age where I can independently go to conferences and meetings without forcing my poor parents to shuttle me someplace, as well as have a drink or two—at past conferences when I was a kid there was always a certain point in the night where I just had to go to bed, which isn’t the case anymore. As my abilities as a writer have improved I’ve also become more interested in actively contributing to Sherlockian scholarship, which I didn’t feel I had the chops to do in the past.

At the Lone Star Holmes conference, you gave a talk on Sherlock Holmes and psychogeography.  Could you explain that term and how you linked Sherlock Holmes to it?

Psychogeography was a concept that one of my Carleton professors introduced me to—essentially it is concerned with the way an individual's environment, specifically within a city, consciously and unconsciously affects their behavior. Psychogeography has manifested itself in many different forms over the years but my professor specifically pointed me towards the work of the French scholar Michel de Certeau, whose 1984 book The Practice of Everyday Life has become a seminal text in the field. In one of the book’s essays titled “Walking in the City”, de Certeau argues that the modern city has become increasingly subjugated to the designs of governments and corporations who wish to find ever more subtle ways of controlling the citizenry and selling things to them. An example I gave at the conference of a non-de Certeauvian way of approaching a city such as London would be to instantly go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus, buy a couple of T-shirts, and then do everything else that appeared on the first google search of the best things for tourists to do in London. De Certeau likens this way of approaching a city to the view one gets of it from atop a skyscraper, which mutes the complex life happening on the ground below and makes the city seem conquerable, knowable to a single person and their worldview (which in reality it never can be, except maybe to Holmes). 

In contrast to this approach, in his essay de Certeau outlines “tactics” of operating within the city that upholds ordinary human life and works as creative resistance against the all-controlling desires of companies and the state. Some examples of these are walking amidst a city’s people, taking shortcuts that are not officially mandated, and interacting with neighborhoods that are not commercially-driven and more representative of the life of the average citizen. In my talk I argued that Holmes derives his success as a detective from his awareness that true knowledge lies not from the view on a skyscraper (an overly-simplifying approach that I liken to Watson and Scotland Yard) but from being intimately attuned to a city’s people and its many neighborhoods, exemplifying de Certeau’s psychogeographic strategy. This, I argued, could be seen in the detective’s usage of the Irregulars and agents like Fred Porlock, his exploration of grimier London areas that most Victorian gentlemen wouldn’t dream of setting foot in, the moments where he acts as an unofficial arbiter of justice, and his unabashed love for all that is bizarre in human behavior. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Maybe everyone has already read this but The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a magnificent piece of historical non-fiction that interweaves the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with that of the serial killer H. H. Holmes, who constructed an elaborate “Murder Castle” during the time of the fair in which he disposed of and concealed his victims. Written like a novel and just as engrossing, this book serves as a fascinating insight into not only one of America’s first recorded serial killers but also the gargantuan accomplishment of the World’s Fair, an extremely ambitious project that was plagued with difficulty and represented America’s assertion of exceptionalism and innovation that would foreshadow Great Britain’s decline as the world’s leading superpower. This book not only checks the murder box for Sherlockians but is also very evocative of the late nineteenth century world that Conan Doyle so brilliantly captured in the stories. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I am confident that the character of Sherlock Holmes will continue to connect with people in many different forms—through pastiches, television, movies, video games, board games, etc.—as he has done for over a century. I am also sure that social media will continue to connect like-minded Sherlockians across the world in new and exciting ways, promoting a dearth of possibilities for conferences and other events (Zoom, as annoying as it is, has really increased the opportunity for the accessibility of things like these). In modern pastiches and adaptations I think that we will see the characters in the canon further evolve in ways that are slightly (or extremely) different from their original portrayal in the stories, as so much of our modern understanding of them is also filtered through their representations in pop culture (for example, in recent years I think we have seen Holmes grow a little colder and more socially fringe than he ever was in the stories, with further emphasis on him being a form of a superhero, itself reflective of our Marvel/DC dominated media landscape). While some might view this as a form of blasphemy, what excites me is that people will still be interacting with these characters and coming up with new things to say about them. I am slightly worried about the future of the stories themselves—in my generation (I’m unabashedly counting myself as a victim of this), I think there are fewer people who go to books as their primary source of entertainment, especially those written in the nineteenth century. But if any stories survive they will be Conan Doyle’s, which remain so gripping that I’m shocked they’re as old as they are. Whatever happens, Holmes and his world of 1895 will remain an object of fascination and reinterpretation that I can’t wait to witness.