Sunday, September 25, 2022

Interesting Interview: Denny Dobry

Denny Dobry is known far and wide for his detailed recreation of 221b Baker Street that takes up his entire basement.  I was lucky enough to get a detailed description of that process in The Finest Assorted Collection and he gives a rundown of specific pieces in each year's Baker Street Almanac.

But if you think Denny is just a guy who's built one cool thing, you don't know the half of it!  First of all, Denny is one of the most down-to-earth and nice guys in this hobby.  He ran The Beacon Society for years and has overseen an amazing Sherlockian book sale for even longer.  While he hosts an official open house once a year, I can't count the number of Sherlockians who have told me about visiting Denny.  The man seems to constantly be welcoming visitors!  I could keep going on and on about Denny (I never even mentioned that one time he impersonated a drunken Mrs. Hudson), but let's get to the man himself, Denny Dobry!


How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is not merely someone who has read the Canon or collects books and other Sherlockiana.  As I relate in the next question, to be a Sherlockian, something has to ‘click’ when you read the Canon.  The root of this enchantment has been suggested to be the charm of the British Victorian era, the friendship between Holmes & Watson or the masterful story-telling of Doyle.  Without experiencing one of these or a similar enchantment, readers would not return again and again to re-read the Canon.  Sherlockians are not merely ‘readers’ of the Canon, but often find themselves as ‘eye-witnesses’ to the tales.


How did you become a Sherlockian?

I read SPEC in the ninth grade, and something ‘clicked’ for me, so I guess from that point on,  I became a Sherlockian-in-waiting.  However, in my youth, my interest focused on science, not literature.  While most Sherlockians-to-be were reading the classics and mystery stories, I was reading Science Digest.  I am probably the most ‘un-read’ Sherlockian ever to receive a Shilling.  Despite brief emergences of Sherlockian interest inspired by my ninth-grade revelation, I didn’t drop my ‘-in-waiting’ status until all the publicity surrounding the 100th Anniversary of the publication of STUD hit the media.  The year 1987 was the first time I became aware of the existence of the world of Sherlockiana.  That initial ‘click’ back in the ninth grade grew into resounding roar, and from that point on, I considered myself to be a Sherlockian.


What was your profession before retiring and did that affect how you enjoyed being a Sherlockian?

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  I took several post-graduate courses from Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin and changed my disciple to Civil Engineering. Eventually I became licensed as a Professional Engineer in four States.  My studies and my career really had no positive affect on how I enjoy being a Sherlockian.  The professional company that I kept were technically oriented and literature of any genre was never a topic of discussion.  I recognize myself as an ‘irregularity’ among the Irregulars.  Most Sherlockians are teachers, authors, lawyers, doctors, and other similar professions.  As an engineer, I find myself as part of a very exclusive scion of Sherlockians. 


What is your favorite canonical story?

I was totally drawn into the mystery in The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I vividly remember the first time that I read it and was convinced that I had figured it out and that the Barrymores were culprits.

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

Jeff Decker was the in-house cartoonist of the Baker Street Journal in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  In addition, his work appeared in numerous other Sherlockian journals and publications. Although he no longer practices his art, his remarkable sense of humor and imagination is still enjoyed today, and a publication of his cartoons is currently in the works.   Jeff and I are close friends and I thoroughly enjoy listening to him recount his personal experiences with Sherlockian legends  as  John Bennett Shaw, Tom Stix, Jr., and others.


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Many Sherlockians have heard of my 221b Baker Street sitting room re-creation.  Gathering artifacts from the Canonical stories, therefore is my primary Sherlockiana subset interest.  However, as often happens with collectors, I have gone off on a tangent and started to collect Hansom Cab miniatures.  I currently have eleven (11) in my collection and have two more on my radar. 


How did your 221B recreation come about and what is one item in your collection that sticks out to you?

In 1996, I attended my first scion meeting at Watson’s Tin Box in Baltimore Maryland.  Before the meeting I was introduced to Paul Churchill and taken to his home.  Paul had a created a 221b Baker Street sitting room, and that experience of being in the presence of actual artifacts from the Canon inspired me to start my own re-creation.  Paul and I became very close friends and collaborated on many projects to promote our passion.  We lost Paul in 2008, and our world lost a great Sherlockian.   I have his photograph in my office and I think of him every day.  I’m not sure what direction my Sherlockian life would have taken if I had never met Paul. 


It is difficult to select just one item from the many favorites that I have.  The one item that seems to be the favorite of visitors, however is Colonel Moran’s ‘air-gun’.  In EMPT, Watson describes it as ‘a sort of gun, with a curiously misshapen butt,’ and of hearing ‘a long, whirling , grinding noise.’  From the photograph, the ‘curiously misshapen butt’ is obvious and the crank explains the ‘long, whirling , grinding noise’ as Moran turned the handle to pressurize the weapon.  The inscription on the barrel reads: “JOH⋅PETERLONG INNSBRUCK”.  Obviously implying that the gun was made in Austria by the blind German mechanic, Von Herder.

The BSI Book Sale and Open House is a Sherlockian book collector's dream.  What drives you to keep such a large endeavor going?

I very much value preserving the history of the Baker Street Irregulars.  When past-chair of the BSI Trust, Andy Solberg, asked me to sell non-archivable items donated to the Trust, for the benefit of the Trust, I was more than happy to oblige.  Not only do I have the opportunity to add to the Trust’s finances, I’m able to keep valued Sherlockian scholarship titles in the hands of Sherlockians.  And for my personal gratification, albeit for a short period of time, I’m often in possession of some very interesting and treasured Sherlockian objects.  (A Shameless Promotion – If you have something that you would like to donate to the BSI Trust or would like a Sales List of available Sherlockiana, contact me at dendobry@ptd.net).


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

The Canon:  Baring-Gould’s and Klinger’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  Both are essential Sherlockian Bibles.

Doyle Biography:  Dan Stashower’s  A Teller of Tales.  The best, in my opinion, of all the ACD   Biographies.

General Sherlockian/Doylean Facts: Mattias Bostrom’s From Holmes to Sherlock. This remarkable work gives the Holmes’ devotee anything and everything they could ever want to know about our passion.


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

I am hopeful and confident that the Sherlockian world will be alive and well in the future.  There will be, as today, a mixture of purely traditional Sherlockians, Sherlockians influenced by non-traditional adaptions & introduced  to the Canon and those enchanted by some media that they may not even realize has a Canonical basis.  I don’t know where the next Benedict Cumberbatch,  Johnny Lee Miller, or Moriarty the Patriot will come from, but I am confident there will be one – Keeping Alive the Memory of the Master! 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Interesting Interview: Jonathan Tiemann

It's time for another Interesting Interview!  And this week's participant is one of the newest members of The Baker Street Irregulars, Jonathan Tiemann!  As he is a financial manager, it's fitting that his investiture is "The Bank of England."  He's also a historian who knows quite a bit about the Californian Gold Rush, so I'm glad they focused on the financial aspect, or else he could've been named "Working A Claim," "Making His Pile," or some other quote from NOBL.

As a Sherlockian who has lived in different regions of the U.S., Jonathan has a unique position to be able to automatically connect with many folks from different regions.  A pleasant and intelligent guy, I think you'll find this week's interview a delightful one to read.  So let's get to know Jonathan Tiemann!


How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Sherlockians start with the Canonical stories, and move out from there. Reading and re-reading them, Sherlockians delight in noticing new details, or making connections, especially with other aspects of Victorian and Edwardian life, and sharing those observations with similarly-obsessed people. That’s the essence of “the game” – seeking new insights and taking pleasure in sharing them.


How did you become a Sherlockian?


I sort of backed into it. My first exposure to Holmes was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in English class in seventh grade. We also read Treasure Island, and those along with a fair amount of Dickens, Melville, and Mark Twain in high school pretty well hooked me on the literature of the second half of the nineteenth century. I’ve always also enjoyed detective fiction, but I didn’t really go back and read the Canon until after I had completely devoured the Nero Wolfe stories and everything by Dashiell Hammett. The Holmes stories, of course, proved to be the ideal point of intersection between those two literary tastes, and I eventually discovered the world of enthusiasts dedicated to enhancing one another’s enjoyment of all things Sherlockian. 


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


My main field of study was finance, and I’ve had my own independent investment management firm for the past twenty years. So, I’m naturally most attuned to the stories that have a financial element – counterfeiting, securities theft, fraud, that sort of thing. Quite a number of the stories mention in passing some financial element that you might “see, but not observe” unless you’re on the lookout for it. There’s also a surprising amount of financial crime in the Canon, and the other sorts of crimes in many Canonical stories have financial motivations. Since Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician, the amount of financial matter in the Holmes stories seemed surprising to me at first, but as I’ve learned more about Victorian England, I’ve realized that he presented financial matters in ways his audience would have found familiar.


What is your favorite canonical story?


That changes from time to time, but right now it’s “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk.” Here a young man lands a prime clerkship at one of the most prestigious firms in The City – The City (of London) is to the British financial markets as Wall Street is to the American – yet he still falls prey to an offer from another quarter that is too good to be true, but too good to refuse. His error opens the way for an attempt at a large theft of securities. The City connection alone is enough to draw me to this particular story. I also like it because while big securities heists were actually rare, they are easy to imagine, and the other main elements of the story, including the scheme appealing to the everyday cupidity of a normal person and even the fraudulent, pop-up office in an out-of-the-way place, resembled features of real swindles in Victorian England.



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


The Sherlockian I would most like to have had the chance to meet would have been Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe, but I’m afraid it’s a half-century too late for that. But to answer the question you actually asked, I have to nominate Nicholas Meyer. Nick is a film director and screenwriter (his credits include three of the original-cast Star Trek films), and an author. His first Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Seven Per-Cent Solution, came out about the time I started college, and I recall it as having been enormously popular among my friends. His most recent, The Return of the Pharaoh, came out last year. Nick is always careful to respect the conventions and timelines of the Canon, so his stories extend the Holmes narrative in ways that modern-setting dramatizations do not. Nick also uses his extensive knowledge of literature and music to enliven his creative work – who else could manage to insert a Holmes reference into a Star Trek script?


I also have to mention Candace Lewis. Because her expertise, primarily in art, is so much different from mine, I always learn a great deal from even the briefest interaction with her. For that reason, talking with her stands out in my mind as an example of the pleasures of trading ideas and observations with other Sherlockians. 


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I suffer from a fascination with the literary tradition of which Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes are part. Edgar Allan Poe and Bret Harte were important antecedents (though Sherlock tweaks Poe a bit in A Study in Scarlet), and of course Conan Doyle has countless literary descendants, from Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, to Dashiell Hammett and Rex Stout, and more. All of these authors wrote for a popular audience, and yet they elevated their stories far enough above the general run of popular culture that we still read, study, and enjoy them.


How do you feel that West Coast Sherlockiana is different from those in the Midwest or East Coast?


I suppose I should have a view on this question, since I grew up in the Midwest, spent about 15 years on the east coast, and have lived for decades in California. So if you’ll permit me to talk out of my hat a bit, I’ll give it a try. I’d say that here on the West Coast, we’re perhaps a bit more likely to regard screen adaptations, especially of Canonical stories, as legitimate Sherlockiana, and we may also lay special emphasis on Conan Doyle’s skill as a storyteller. East coast Sherlockians may take a somewhat more academic approach to Holmes scholarship, and Midwesterners may be more likely to focus a bit more closely on the original text. But there are objections to those views, too. After all, most of the best screen adaptations are British, rather than Californian, productions – re-reading the Canon, I hear Holmes speaking in Jeremy Brett’s voice. And one of the best resources for academic study of Sherlockiana is the Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota.



As an amateur historian, how does that influence how you enjoy the Canon?


My chosen topic is economic and financial history. I started by studying banking and finance in Gold Rush California, but soon fell prey to the historian’s most nettlesome question: “Interesting, but I wonder – what happened before this?” The result is that I’ve learned enough about the economic history of the eastern half of the North Pacific Basin to become a tiresome dinner companion. While the Holmes stories take place at least a quarter century after the end of the period I’ve studied most deeply, their economic and technological backdrop feels familiar. The 1850s saw rapid development of steamships, railroads, and telegraphs; by the 1890s they were commonplace. A growing middle class in both Britain and America had disposable income both to buy the Strand magazine and to experience first-hand the temptations and perils of the types of speculations that sometimes figure as plot points in Holmes stories. And, of course, the frequency with which the stories concern fortunes made in India, South Africa, South America, Australia, or even California would have seemed entirely reasonable to English readers at the height of the British Empire.


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

For something a little out of the ordinary, I’d suggest Brian McCuskey, How Sherlock Pulled the Trick: Spiritualism and the Pseudoscientific Method (State College: Penn State University Press) 2021. Some Sherlockians might object to it, as McCuskey’s two-fold thesis both takes on Arthur Conan Doyle’s belief in Victorian spiritualism and argues that Holmes’s reasoning in the stories is not always so watertight as it may seem. He particularly examines Holmes’s apothegm about exhausting possibilities until only one remains. But it’s a fresh look at well-trod ground, and a sufficiently open-minded reader should at least find it thought-provoking. 


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


Advancing, I hope. But seriously, we mostly need to keep introducing young people to the pleasures of all things Sherlockian – maybe starting with a movie, or a TV adaptation, but then without wasting too much time moving them on to the Canonical stories themselves, so that Arthur Conan Doyle can do the rest. One event that will fall within the time span in your question is the centennial of Conan Doyle’s passing. Sherlockian societies around the world will surely mark the occasion with events, exhibitions, and conferences of various types, as well we should.


Perhaps a theme for such an event, and perhaps the animating question for Sherlockians in this upcoming period, should be, to whom does Sherlock Holmes belong – not as a matter of intellectual property, but as part of our shared cultural legacy? If Holmes by then belongs to all of us, then how shall we best balance the merits of preserving the original Holmes, as though in amber, with the benefits of cultivating an evergreen Holmes, adapted to the current age? Whatever the answer (and answers will vary and inevitably clash), I do hope we remember to keep listening to the voice from 1895 that still has so much to say to us in 2022, and will still in 2030 and beyond.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Interesting Interview: David Marcum

Every Sherlockian brings their own set of skills to this hobby of ours.  For my money, this week's Interesting Interviewee's big skill is energy.  David Marcum is a prolific Sherlockian author, editor, collector, chronologist, and unabashed fan of the written word.  I've followed David's blog for a while and am always entertained by what he has to say and when I published my first book with MX Publishing back in 2017, they had a million good things to say about David.

But it was having David be a part of The Finest Assorted Collection anthology that really helped me to understand this guy's devotion!  David has the world's largest collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches as far as I can tell.  But David puts his money where his mouth is, too.  He's written many of his own pastiches and edited a staggering amount of works by other Sherlockians.  But let's let him tell his own story.  Buckle up, because this guy has enough energy for ten of us!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

First of all, thanks to Rob Nunn for the opportunity to participate in this series.

Every time this question has been asked in previous interviews, I’ve read with great interest, and I really liked Janice Weiner’s recent answer (from July 24th, 2022) when she said that a Sherlockian has read The Canon. To me, however one finds their way here, they should read the Original Texts to understand the Original Holmes.

Contrary to the public persona I cultivate, I actually have a lot more interests than just Sherlock Holmes, and I try to keep in mind with each of them whether I’m simply a casual fan, or someone has made the extra effort to know the true original version of something. I’m in a number of groups – such as those related to Hercule Poirot or James Bond or Father Brown – where the casual fans only know (and only want to know) what they’ve seen from film versions, and they’ve never – sometimes proudly – bothered to go back and read the original books in order to understand the actual characters, settings, time periods, context, etc. Without putting in the work to have that baseline knowledge, they don’t truly understand what they’re a fan of.

I believe that it's the same in the Sherlockian World. If one only knows Holmes by way of media representations, for instance, or from recognizing a few well-known identifiers (such as a deerstalker), without knowing that the original Canonical stories occurred from 1881 to 1914, then one isn’t yet a Sherlockian. Casual fans are wonderful – we all started that way – and should be welcomed and encouraged, but for some of us a deeper spark was ignited, motivating us take those extra steps: To read more. To seek out and study and ponder more. That’s when you become a Sherlockian.


How did you become a Sherlockian?

Like many, I was aware of Holmes before I took the deeper Sherlockian dive. When I was eight, I read my first mysteries, some of which mentioned Holmes, and that’s also the time when I read my first Solar Pons story, in a kid’s mystery anthology – so I’d seen the Holmes and Watson model before I “found” Holmes when I was ten, in 1975. One Saturday, I saw a re-run of A Study in Terror (a pastiche) on television and was then moved to read my sole Holmes book, an abridged copy of The Adventures. After that, I started reading whatever about Mr. Holmes I could find – The Canon, and at the same time the few pastiches that were then available.

I feel that my transition to an actual Sherlockian came down to a single electric moment. For my twelfth birthday, I requested and received the boxed set of Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. I’d already devoured B-G’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street a year or so before, but the Annotated version went to an entirely different and much deeper level – and when I flipped to the back and saw page after page of bibliographic references, it was like my head exploded – There was so much more about Holmes out there than just the sixty stories that I’d read and re-read, and I hadn’t known about any of it! And I wanted to know more – but there wasn’t very much Sherlockian scholarship or fellowship to be found in 1970’s East Tennessee, so I spent years – decades – as a solitary Sherlockian, reading Canon and pastiche and spinning my own theories and notions in solitude. I’m actually listed as a Sherlockian society of one person – The Diogenes Club West (East Tennessee Annex) – on Peter Blau’s List of Sherlockian Societies

For years, the only Sherlockians I “knew” (and this was just through telephone calls and letters) were Carolyn and Joel Senter, because their Classics Specialty catalogs were always the basis on of my birthday and Christmas wish lists. Somehow – maybe from them – I heard about From Gillette to Brett III in November 2011, and when I saw that both Nick Meyer and Bert Coules were going to be there, I impulsively decided to make the six-hour drive. As many have noted, one’s first visit to a Sherlockian event is magical, and the people are wonderful. Living where I do, it’s a serious commitment to travel to any Sherlockian gathering, but I’ve been to all of the later From Gillette to Brett’s, as well as occasional visits to TheNashville Scholars (my home Scion), and once to the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York (in January 2020 – when COVID was probably already among us, but we didn’t know it yet). Luckily, in this day and age, contact with other Sherlockians can be maintained electronically when seeing one another in person doesn’t work out.



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

I’ve actually had a few professions, and I think that each has been influential. After college, I was a U.S. Federal Investigator for a number of years, and I traveled to various parts of the country and was able to indulge in my life-long habit of visiting bookstores, where I always bought Sherlockian volumes when I unexpectedly found them – both pastiches and scholarship – knowing that it’s best to grab them when one has the chance, because to go back and try to acquire them later is much more difficult and expensive.

After our federal agency was abruptly closed, I went back to school for a second degree in Civil Engineering – and being a student for a while was almost a career in itself. That time allowed me to take being a Sherlockian to a much deeper level. I was the supervisor at a full-time night job where I could study when things slowed down, and after doing my homework, I would read and re-read Holmes – both The Canon, as well as all of the pastiches I’d acquired over the years. It was then that I started making notes for what would eventually become my massive Canon and pastiche chronology, now over 1,000 dense pages, integrating novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics, fan fiction, and unpublished manuscripts by year, month, day, and even hour. Also, I first truly discovered the internet while at school, and I was able to locate thousands of online traditional pastiches that I printed, read, chronologicized, and archived. (It’s a good thing, as many of them have since otherwise vanished.) I also learned of and managed to down and acquire many other pastiches in book form.

As a civil engineer, I’ve been able to continue collecting, and being an engineer has provided useful skills in the areas of editing and writing about Holmes, both of which have involved a certain amount of my time in the last few years. All of these professions have taught me that the only way that a project or task gets done is to sit down and do it. In each of these careers, managing tasks was essential. As a federal investigator, I usually had six to ten active cases on hand, and now as a senior civil engineer working for my hometown’s public works department, we usually have that many simultaneous ongoing projects. Writing new stories and editing anthologies is like managing those cases or projects – keeping an eye on all the pieces, and always working on some part of it and making forward progress so that when one part comes to a temporary halt, there’s always something else to address.


What is your favorite canonical story?

Like many, I think that my favorite Canonical adventure changes all the time, depending on the day, or what I get out of it during a particular re-read. Sometimes my temporary favorite is based on a story of my own that I’m writing if it happens to either be a direct sequel to a Canonical story, or if it uses one as a jumping-off place. (For example, I recently wrote a Solar Pons adventure where Pons’s client is an elderly Hall Pycroft. The story never mentions Holmes or the events of “The Stockbroker’s Clerk”, but for those who recognize Pycroft’s name and a few other Easter Eggs, it’s a nice semi-sequel.)

I guess if really pushed into a corner – and I’ve saved this difficult question for last – my answer today is “The Abbey Grange”. The setting and deductions are spot-on. It has a murder – and a heroic fellow who commits it for the right reasons. Watson is a British jury”, and there was never “a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one,” while Holmes is the judge, stating, “Once or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience.” Some of the best of later Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen mysteries place those heroes in the same judge-like position.

Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll pick something else, but today I choose this one.



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

I’ve met so many amazing Sherlockians in the last few years (both in real life and online) that it’s very difficult to narrow the list down to just one, but I think that many would agree that the Sherlockian who has done so much for so many – authors, readers, and charities – is Steve Emecz.

In 2013, I rather timidly approached Steve by email to see about reprinting my first little-known pastiche volume, The Papers of SherlockHolmes. It turned out to be one of the most life-changing actions I’ve ever taken, leading me to all the fun and opportunities that I’ve had since. Steve has encouraged every idea that I’ve had, and he does the same with other authors.

Very early, Steve understood that the power of print-on-demand, combined with the internet, was the new publishing paradigm, especially when compared to the old ways of pre-printing vast numbers of just a few titles that take forever to actually be published, and then end up sitting around in boxes or on warehouse shelves, to eventually be sold – or not. MX Publishing was originally a non-Sherlockian company, but when Steve was initially approached with a Sherlockian title, he realized that this was a vast market ready to be explored. I wasn’t one of his very first authors, but I’ve been with MX for nearly a decade now, and it’s left me in awe to see how it’s grown, and all that it’s done for both authors without any other possibility of ever cracking the old paradigm, and for readers like me who want more and more Holmes, but can’t wait for the little bit that trickles through by way of the old publishing pathways. (In some ways, Steve’s method of getting Sherlockian material to the masses makes him a modern-day Sherlockian Gutenberg.)

Steve works closely with Derrick and Brian Belanger, founders and owners of Belanger Books – and two other good friends who are super-high on my list of Interesting Sherlockians. One would think that Steve’s MX Publishing and Belanger Books would be rivals, but in fact they work together closely for the betterment of the entire Sherlockian community, supporting each other’s projects, and each in turn supporting a number of charities. I’m extremely lucky to be associated with all of them.


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Pastiches, of course. By far, what I want are more and more Holmes adventures. I found pastiches (in the form of the first two Nick Meyers novels) before I’d even read all of The Canon, so to me, a good pastiche is just as enjoyable and important as the originals. I’ve written elsewhere that there are three legs to the Sherlockian stool: The Canon, scholarship, and pastiches. I think that the latter doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. After all, when one looks back at any of the great resurgences of interest in Holmes – the kind that bring in new blood into the fandom – it’s usually been because of pastiches – William Gillette’s play, for example, and the Rathbone films. Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974) started a Golden Age that’s never really ended. Various film and television pastiches since then have also generated new waves of interest.

Some find The Canon first, but many more get there by way of pastiches. Some people dig even further for the scholarship, but many will never see any of that, as often it isn’t easily available or affordable to general readers – but those same general readers can always find good pastiches, especially these days when so many authors are working so hard to produce them, and MX and Belanger Books are delivering them.

In 2008, I was laid off from a civil engineering job and decided to use some of my free time to write my own pastiches – as I’d always wanted to write. Over the next few weeks, I completed nine adventures – and then did nothing with them for several years. Eventually I showed them to a few people and, from their encouraging responses, got the urge to share them in a real book. The Papers of Sherlock Holmes was initially published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box in 2011, and then I moved it to MX Publishing in 2013. After that, I wrote a Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity ofDebt (2013), and another volume of short stories, Sherlock Holmes:Tangled Skeins (2015). Others have followed.

In early 2015, I came up with the idea of the MX anthologies and wrote a story for that. Other anthologies followed, and I wrote stories for all of them – both those that I’ve edited for MX and Belanger Books, and also for other publishers, and magazines as well. Overall (as of this interview,) I’ve written 98 Holmes pastiches (and 27 Solar Pons pastiches, which are very much like Holmes adventures), and I have requests to write six more Holmes stories by the end of the year. In addition to enthusiastically supporting pastiches, I also put my efforts into writing more of them.


As editor of more than 50 Sherlockian books, what are some memories that stand out from all of your work?

I never thought that I’d be editing Holmes pastiches – and now I’ve edited about 1,000 of them. I’d always wanted to write Holmes stories, but I only dipped into editing because I desired more adventures of the type that I wanted to read. I literally woke up one morning in early 2015, having just dreamed that I’d edited a Holmes pastiche volume. I ran the idea past a few friends and publisher Steve Emecz, and after they were encouraging, I began reaching out to pastiche authors. I had the feeling that I’d be lucky if I received a dozen new stories to make up a small paperback. Instead, the participation turned out to be much bigger than that. That first set grew to three massive simultaneous volumes of over sixty stories, and a few weeks after these were published, people were already asking about the next set. It was never meant to be more than a one-time thing, but the system was in place, so I solicited stories for another volume. And it’s just kept going . . . .

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories has now grown to 33 published volumes, and I’m currently editing Parts XXXIV, XXXV, and XXXVI, while soliciting stories for Part XXXVII – and possibly for Parts XXXIII and XXXIX too! We now have over 750 new traditional Canonical stories from over 200 contributors worldwide. Early on, we decided that the royalties would go to the Stepping Stones School (now known as “Undershaw”) for special needs children, located at Undershaw, one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes. As of earlier this summer, the books – by way of the first-rate author contributions and fan support – have incredibly raised over $100,000 for the school – and officials at the school have told me that even more important than the money is the fact that the books have raised awareness of the school around the world.

I have many amazing memories associated with these books. Early on, simply receiving new stories when I didn’t know if anyone would contribute at all was a thrill – and I’ve never stopped being thrilled when a new adventure shows up in my in-box. (I now get over 200 new stories each year for different anthologies, and the idea that people are sending me new Holmes adventures every few days still blows my mind!) By way of the MX anthologies, I’ve been able to edit a number of other Holmes collections for Belanger Books. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet hundreds of wonderful Sherlockians – in person or online – that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and I’ve been able to play in the Sherlockian sandbox when I probably wouldn’t have found a way to otherwise.

In Fall 2015, I was able to go to London and the launch party for the first three MX volumes. In 2016, I was invited back as a guest of honor at the Stepping Stones School for their Grand Opening celebration at Undershaw. And I hope to get back again when the world settles down a bit more.

Just this year we passed the $100,000 amount raised for the school, which I’m still getting used to. When I edit the books – receiving and editing stories, communicating with authors, etc. – it’s all a very solitary thing. By the time the latest set of the books is published, I’m already deeply into the next volumes and the others are way back in my rear-view mirror, so I only have a vague sense that they’re now out there in the real world, and that other people are finally reading them. So when I looked up and we were at $100,000, and I contemplated just how many people had actually bought and read and supported these books, which all started as individual stories arriving in my inbox, I was stunned.


How did you become a pastiche collector? 

That goes back to when I first discovered Holmes at age ten in 1975. I had an abridged copy of The Adventures, and next I found a paperback of The Return. (Thus, I read “The Empty House” before “The Final Problem”, and learned how Holmes had survived Reichenbach before I ever knew that he’d supposedly died there!) Not long after, I found Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and then his follow-up The West End Horror (still one of my favorite pastiches of all time) – both before I’d finished reading The Canon. Not long after, I received and read Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street – so the idea of pastiches intertwining with The Canon was fixed early on, and it made perfect sense to me. Good pastiches support and augment The Canon. I’ve repeatedly called the entire Canon and pastiche construct The Great Holmes Tapestry, with The Canon serving as the main threads, and pastiches making up all the fibers in between that give added color and nuance and depth.

In those early days, pastiches were extremely difficult to find, but even as a kid I haunted used bookstores. As I grew, I had more opportunities to acquire Holmes books and stories that I hadn’t known about. When I went back to college for a second degree, my rooting around for pastiches went to a much greater depth, and I dug up literally thousands of them – both online stories that I printed and saved, and physical books. Since that time, it’s only grown exponentially and, except for a few oddities and rarities, I believe that I’ve collected just about every traditional and Canonical pastiches that’s ever been written. (Perhaps this is a good time to mention that my wife of thirty-four years is a most incredible and supportive person!)


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is maybe the toughest question, because there are so many I want to mention. I’m going to cheat and recommend several. The first is Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, because it threw open the door that there is more to Holmes and Watson’s lives than the infinitely small amounts recorded in The Canon. Then there’s Nick Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. I don’t think it’s his best pastiche, but it was the first little grain of sand that became the still-growing avalanche of modern Sherlockiana. Additionally, it let people understand that Holmes adventures can be good – or great – without having crossed the First Literary Agent’s desk. Finally, there’s the 3-volume set of The Canon edited by Edgar W. Smith (the Heritage Press edition, with the raised silhouette of Holmes as by F.D. Steele on the covers). This version doesn’t have all the extras of the four Annotated Canons (Baring-Gould, both Klingers, and the Oxford), but it’s an edition of the Holmes stories prepared by a Master Sherlockian – a true labor of love – and it’s what I use when re-reading The Canon.



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

Well, Sherlockiana certainly won’t diminish in any way. Interest in Holmes – or other Holmes-like characters – is always there. Sometimes – like when I read a Solar Pons tale two years before discovering Holmes, or when someone enjoys House and doesn’t realize that he’s very Holmes-like – people are getting exposed to the Holmes Pattern and they don’t even realize it, so when they do encounter the legitimate Holmes, they’re already primed to enjoy him.

New Holmes projects will always be in the works. I believe that my own area of interest – more and more stories in the Canonical mode – are well-assured of continuation. I sometimes write that I’m a Missionary of The Church of the Canonical Holmes – and it’s good to feel confident that Holmes will stay around. With the new publishing paradigm opening the door to so many authors who previously had no good outlets, and the availability of new adventures in all sorts of formats for the ever-growing group of readers who want them, the Holmes genie is truly, finally, and wonderfully out of the bottle.

Thanks again including me in this project!

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Interesting Interview: Janice Weiner

Janice Weiner is a Sherlockian that not enough people know about. Invested into the Baker Street Irregulars this year, she is clearly someone who has been contributing to Sherlockiana for some time now. But she's not one to toot her own horn. So I'm going to toot it for her!


Janice has a history of giving great talks and toasts and has earned the Fortescue Scholarship. She's a member of a ton of Chicago area Sherlockian societies, and has run the Scotland Yarders for over ten years, after being a founding member and editor of the scion newsletter. She's a familiar face at many functions, including BSI Weekends, Minnesota conventions, and the recent Celebration of Sherlock Holmes. So let's get to know our fellow Sherlockian this week, Janice Weiner!



How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?


A Sherlockian is a person who has read the Canon. The person has succumbed to Holmes’s allure however finding out about him. Whether or not that person came to reading the Canon as a child or after seeing one of the TV shows or movies showcasing Holmes, perhaps as an adult, I believe having read the Canon a person can intelligently talk about portrayals of Holmes (and the Canonical stories). If one does not know the original Holmes, how can one discuss the differences in all the versions of stories, etc. with any validity? But, a Sherlockian does not have to focus on the original Canon. Have fun with Holmes whether in cosplay, alternative versions of stories, etc. Just read the original Canon at some point.


How did you become a Sherlockian?


I read my first Holmes story as a ten-year-old. It was an abridged "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" in a Reader’s Digest book for kids. Later on, I believe while in college, I read the Doubleday collection of the Canon. I had been going to Scotland Yard Books for some time and was intrigued when the store started a scion, obviously The Scotland Yarders. I attended the organizing meeting and have been involved in the group ever since. Through the Scotland Yarders I became aware of other scions and the widespread interest in Holmes.



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


When I was teaching (I was a junior high school librarian) I worked with two 8th grade teachers to introduce Holmes to the students. One teacher had me talk about Holmes and the other had me create a weeklong unit about Holmes and the Victorian Era. Unfortunately, when those teachers retired Holmes was booted from the curriculum.


I taught some multimedia classes. When talking about genres I talked about Holmes and one group made a Holmes “film”. I very much enjoyed any time I could introduce students to the Canon. Being a teacher has made it easier for me when I have to talk to adults about Holmes, create quizzes, and other such activities. I had to plan my teaching lessons and it has helped me plan agendas for meetings and so on.


What is your favorite canonical story?


My favorite story might just be "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as it was my first foray into the Sherlockian world, but I also enjoy "A Scandal in Bohemia." I love Irene Adler in men’s clothes as I dislike dresses, etc. Too uncomfortable!



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


I can’t pick a specific Sherlockian I find interesting as I’ve had many conversations with interesting Sherlockians. I don’t know many so well that I can choose a winner in this category. I will mention that two people were mentors to me.


One, Fred Levin, is deceased, but Fred worked at Scotland Yard books. He always recommended books for my growing collection of Sherlockian books and he always talked about the BSI weekends. He introduced me to the world outside of the local Sherlockian scene even as he also introduced me to local scions.


Terry McCammon and I hit if off while being snarky at a Sherlockian meeting (I suppose I should not admit this). Terry would talk about the BSI weekend too. I had a number of years previously been to a couple of the events, but wasn’t planning on going to NY again. I am not a good traveler and Terry (and his wife) let me travel with them when they went to NY. Terry introduced me to a number of people I never would have met otherwise. I never really told Fred how much I appreciated his mentorship, but I have told Terry so.


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?


You, Rob, have forced me to think more about what I like about the Sherlockian world and my interest in Holmes. I do enjoy reading pastiches that I feel “get it right” about Holmes and Watson. If I can hear Jeremy Brett saying some of the dialog in a pastiche, I usually like it. But I like collecting any number of Sherlockian things. I am certainly not John Bennett Shaw, but I have a variety of things in my collection.



What does the Chicago Sherlockian scene look like?


The Chicago Sherlockian scene is not what it used to be. People have gotten older and passed away and there has not been an influx of new or younger folks to take their places. Many Chicago Sherlockians belong to more than one local scion and so we see the same folks, rather than a variety of members. We all have lost members who had media contacts and used to promote the scions. No one now has come up with a good way to attract more people.


I do not use social media. When I tried Facebook once I got replies assuming the Scotland Yarders were a Facebook group. The Scotland Yarders and most other local scions prefer in-person meetings. One new speaker for my group did not get anyone to attend the meeting after promoting it on his Facebook page. That is discouraging. Right now one scion is still only on Zoom. Another scion has barely met in the last few years and another hasn’t met since before the pandemic. My scion is very tiny, but I’m working to keep it going. So, the local Chicago scene is not in good shape.


You were an integral part of creating The Digital Muse, CDs that digitized every Serpentine Muse from 1975-2015.  What was it like working on such a large project?


I proofread the index for the Serpentine Muse (though not for a number of years now). It almost drove me crazy. I had to go through quite a number of years checking all the names, article titles and such for spelling mistakes, for consistency in author names, and, often checking page numbers. I spent a lot of time on it and thought, at one point I was going to give the task up. I was looking at reproductions of articles on the computer and it was hard on my eyes. But, as a librarian, I was glad to sort things through and help create an accurate index. I thank Monica Schmidt for setting up the task for me as it led to me becoming an ASH.



What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?


It’s hard to recommend a book to Sherlockians. Most Sherlockians I know have so many books already. If a person is new to the Sherlockian world, I would suggest Baring-Gould’s and Les Klinger’s annotated Canons.


Those books will help a new person understand the references to the time in which Holmes worked. If a person has not read a lot of history, the Victorian Era might be a mystery to the person and needs explanation. I had to explain quite a bit to students when I introduced them to Holmes’s world.


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


Hmmm? Where do I see Sherlockiana in the future? Well, in a number of places in the U.S. and the world there are vibrant scions that will keep the interest in Holmes going and going. I am not so sanguine about the Chicago scene. If we can keep the few newer scion members we have attracted, we may just keep the number of scions we have going, but I fear we may lose a scion or two or merge a few. I do think that if the wider world comes up with more TV or movie versions of Holmes, it will again attract people to our hobby and things, especially in area, will look even brighter.