Monday, August 28, 2017

Nerve and Knowledge

This weekend, I attended my first Baker Street Irregulars event, Nerve and Knowledge II: Doctors, Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon, hosted by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis.

As of Thursday night, I didn't have anyone to go with, and I was weighing the options of going to my first major Sherlockian event by myself, or skipping the thing entirely.  I was able to convince Joe Eckrich, founder of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, to go with me and I am so glad that we made the trip to Indiana on Saturday.

Being the book nerds that we are, we left my house in Edwardsville, IL early enough to allow us time to visit Black Dog Books in Zionsville, IN.  Let me tell you, if you are anywhere in the Indianapolis area, this is a bookstore you want to check out.  There is a shelf just for Sherlock Holmes books.  And we're not talking just pastiches.  If I could have afforded it, I would've walked out of there with an armful of Sherlockian scholarship.  But I live on a budget and my wife is quick to point that out when it comes to books.

Being somewhat deficient in planning skills, Joe and I didn't account for the time change between Illinois and Indiana, and ended up being late to dinner.  Whoops!  Bill Mason, a thoroughly delightful Tennessee Sherlockian visited with us for a while, but it was looking like Joe and I were going to be hanging out in a booth by ourselves.  But we weren't the only ones to be relegated to outside the main crowd.  Luckily, Court Brown of Art in the Blood also showed up after the main seating area had been filled and we got to share dinner with her.  This was my first interaction with someone at the event that involved the phrase, "I know you from Twitter!"  And happily, it wouldn't be the last.

After dinner, the entire group headed to the Indiana Medical History Museum for the night's program.  The Medical History Museum is part of the old Central State Hospital, built in 1895.  Stepping inside the building is like stepping back in time.  The program took place in the teaching amphitheater where autopsies were performed.  And other rooms in the building hold a variety of medical instruments and specimens from that time.  Including lots of samples of brains (My daughter was not impressed with this picture when I showed it to her the next day).

But the main event were the night's speakers.  The 70 or so members of the audience were treated to two great talks by Sherlockian medicos.  Carlina de la Cova spoke first about the use of anthropology in the canon.  She took us through the history of anthropology and phrenology in criminal work and why some people would be considered a hereditary criminal just by the shape of their skull (including Christopher Eccleston).  Her talk was titled "I Covet Your Skull," and for anyone familiar with The Hound of the Baskervilles, that line immediately strikes a familiar tone.  After writing my own novel about criminals, her attention to the description of Moriarty's heredity features and skull were especially interesting.

After a brief intermission where I was able to buy another book, this time a copy of Out of the Abyss from the BSI Press, it was time for that book's editor to speak.  Bob Katz gave an entertaining talk on Holmes' own knowledge of medical studies throughout the stories.  By highlighting the philosophy that it's not what's said but what is NOT said in the stories, he highlighted a instances from The Creeping Man, The Solitary Cyclist, The Lion's Mane, and The Blanched Soldier.  Using these inferences throughout Holmes' career, Bob argued that Holmes had studied medicine while at university.  Not only did Bob have to convince a room of Sherlockians that he could prove Holmes' collegiate studies, he also had to do so as the room darkened as night fell and only one overhead light worked!

The program wrapped up, and the crowd milled around and started to disperse.  I admit, I didn't want the night to end!  I had gone to Indianapolis to meet new Sherlockians and the night was young.  So when Steve Doyle suggested we head to a local restaurant to keep the night going, I was ecstatic.  A nice crowd of Sherlockians headed out including myself, Joe Eckrich, Leah and Brett Guinn, Bob Katz, Court Brown, Steve Doyle, Carlina de la Cova, and Mike and Mary Ann Whelan.  Of course we covered Sherlockian topics (like an upcoming BSI Manuscript that sounds phenomenal), but talk around the table covered all kinds of topics ranging from medical school stories to basketball arenas and social media.

At one point, I took a copy of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street down to Steve, the publisher of The Baker Street Journal.  The next thing I know, Mike Whelan has pulled up a chair and the three of us are discussing the importance of Moriarty in the Holmes canon and why he is such a prominent character outside of the canon.

Less than 48 hours before this conversation, I was considering not going to the event.  I decided to go and ended up swapping canonical theories with the editor of the BSJ and the head of the BSI.  How could I have been thinking about not going to this event?  That was an insane thought!

In the end, the night wrapped up and everyone went the separate ways.  But travelling to meet with other Sherlockians was something I'm very glad that I did.  The Illustrious Clients and the BSI put on a great program, but the real highlight of the event was all of the people in attendance.  Sherlockians really are the best people.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Release

Once everyone is done viewing today's solar eclipse, there's another important phenomenon happening:


As of today, my book is available at the MX Publishing website!  If you would prefer to buy from a local independent bookstore, MX Publishing has also made it available to independents before its wide release through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I've gone into more detail of the book in a previous post, so I won't rehash that here.  But take a minute to check out the MX site and if the book sounds interesting to you, give it a shot.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I Tried to Puzzle it Out

August 2nd.  That's when the black hole was formed.

Not a Stephen Hawking/Neil DeGrasse Tyson type of black hole.  No, we are dealing with a productivity black hole.  That's the day that I learned of Think Geek's new Sherlock Holmes puzzle.  I showed it to my wife, she innocently said I should get it and I ordered it.  The die was cast.  A week later, it arrived in the mail and I haven't been productive since then.

School starts in a week, I'm trying to be a productive member of my team participating in the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt, I'm in the middle of a good book, and I'd like to keep up with the rest of the world.  But the puzzle calls to me.

Doing puzzles has always been something my daughter and I have done together, but the biggest one we've ever attempted was 100 pieces and was Disney princesses.  So when she asked if she could help me with the 1,000 piece Sherlock Holmes puzzle, I gladly accepted her offer.  (I think she put about 4 pieces in total, but she sure did try)

My wife noticed that she was all alone in the living room.  And she was sucked in as well.  Over the course of four days, if we were home, there was some combination of the three of us hunched over the dining room table working on it.

And this thing is big!  I had hoped to use a board game as a kind of mat and move it off the table so we could eat.  It's too big.  I brought up a big wooden platform from the basement to use.  It was still too big.  So I used both.  That worked for a day and half until I finally gave up and claimed the dining room table as my own.

We didn't eat dinner in our dining room for three days because of this puzzle.

Here is where you would think I'd start complaining about how much space it took up, how it upset our family routines, or kept me from other things I should have been doing, but no.  I loved every piece of this puzzle.  It was a fun challenge as a Sherlockian, was the first Sherlockian thing my wife ever did with me (she still hasn't read my book! ahem...), and prompted some fun conversations with my daughter, at one point she decided she would "help" put the puzzle together by looking at the pieces with a magnifying glass.

You don't have to have a strong knowledge of the canon to do this puzzle, but it sure makes it more interesting.  Quotes from the stories, biographies of Doyle and his characters, pictures, and a list of every case along with its guilty party make up the collage.  When my daughter asked, "Who is Frances?" I immediately knew it should go between "Lady" and "Carfax."  I saved the list of cases to do by myself at the end because I wanted to do it without looking at the cover on the box and use my knowledge to put it together.  I realized I know the order of The Adventures really well, and things get hazy after that.

But the absolute best part of this puzzle was once it was done.  Not getting my dining room table or leisure time back, but my daughter wanted me to read the puzzle to her.  She now knows that Sherlock's best friend was Dr. Watson, and Dr. Watson got married to a client.  She also knows what the word "client" means.  She knows that Holmes used science and has a brother named Mycroft.  And she wanted me to read the list of cases to her, stopping me to hear about ones that sounded interesting or ones she's already familiar with.

What started out as a mere intellectual puzzle, grew into something to while away the time, and ended up as what will remain a great memory of the occasion.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sherlockian Imprinting

We've all heard the stories of animal imprinting where a baby duck or some other animal mistakes a different species for its mother and then follows it around, learning from the surrogate.  And it's so CUTE!

And does this have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes, or am I just shamelessly putting up cute animal pictures to attract readers to my blog?  Honestly?  Both.

I've yet to meet another Sherlockian that doesn't have adaptations outside of the canon that they love.  I have a theory that imprinting plays a big part in our Sherlockian identities.  Quick, what is your favorite adaption?  My theory is that that adaptation is one of the first adaptations of the canon you ever saw.  Two personal examples:

My love for The Great Mouse Detective runs deep.  I enjoyed that movie before I even knew who Sherlock Holmes was and continued to love it even after I became a Sherlockian.  Going back and rewatching Basil vs. Ratigan once I was able to pick up on the canonical nods just strengthened my positive feelings towards the film.  There were other Disney movies from that time period that I also enjoyed, but having something from my childhood tie into my adult interests undoubtedly reinforced the feelings I have towards the movie.

For you psychology majors out there, I know that's more reinforcement than psychology, but cut me some slack.

I got into Sherlock Holmes around 2003 or 2004.  I plowed through the canon, the apocrypha and then dove into pastiches.  For whatever reason, I didn't ever seek out movie or TV adaptations until I saw that the guy from Iron Man was playing Sherlock Holmes.  "Sure," I thought, "I'll check it out."  This was the first film adaptation that I saw once I became a Sherlockian.

Many Sherlockians don't like Downey's portrayal of Holmes.  I can see where they're coming from.  The original film is a completely new story, Holmes and Irene Adler are nothing like they are in the canon, and the movie is more action over deduction.  But you know what?  I love that movie.  It's so much fun!  If anyone were to ask me what the best adaptation is, I'd quickly answer Jeremy Brett's Granada series.  So good!  But my favorite?  The Great Mouse Detective and Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes.

So why does Downey's film strike such a chord with me?  My unlicensed self-analysis is because of imprinting.  It was one of the first adaptations I saw.  I don't think imprinting is a catch-all.  If I had seen Matt Frewer's version first, it's a pretty safe guess that he wouldn't have been my favorite.

But the versions that are worth watching (Brett, Downey, Cumberbatch, Miller, Lee, Plummer, Rathbone, Cushing, etc.), if you saw one of those first, my hypothesis is that it rates very high, if not at the top, on your list of adaptations.  Maybe I'm wrong, but even the Great Detective made his hypotheses without much knowledge sometimes.